The Blog vs. Big Brother: New and Old Information Technology and Political Repression, 1980–2006

Journal article

Muñoz, Lucia Liste & Indra de Soysa (2011) The Blog vs. Big Brother: New and Old Information Technology and Political Repression, 1980–2006, International Journal of Human Rights 15 (8): 1315–1330.

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Information and communications technologies (ICTs) prominently feature in the current wave of globalisation. Sceptics of globalisation suggest that the new technology will hamstring governments from acting in the interests of ordinary people and for furthering communitarian values, leading to demobilisation of reform movements and empowering powerful capitalistic elites. Others suggest that the new technologies will empower people at the expense of states, opening up public space for diversity of opinions and constraining the repressive tendencies of states and bureaucracies. Moreover, the new technologies may also allow mass dissent to mobilise more easily and hamstring the repressive power of states due to transparency and global audience costs. We address the issue by specifically assessing the effects of older technologies relative to new ones, controlling for time independently. We find very clear results suggesting that new ICTs, particularly access to the internet and mobile phones, are associated with better human rights, whereas access to televisions and fixed phone lines are associated with worse human rights. It seems that the new ICTs are qualitatively better for human rights than the old ones. Our results are robust to a host of different controls, testing methods and to the inclusion of time trends as a separate variable. The results taken together do not support pessimistic arguments about how new technologies can raise the level of dangerous dissent and provoke harsher human rights practices by governments.

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