Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Wacky World of Authoritarian Regimes on Social Media

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, February 4 2013

Gulnara Karimova's Twitter page.

For many authoritarian states, social media can present the ultimate threat: anti-regime discourse and dissent from the party line. In some cases governments have taken extreme measures to clamp down on online freedoms, like Egypt’s countrywide Internet blackout in 2011, Iran’s ongoing censorship of Western social sites, and, in the most extreme case, North Korea’s neutered state-sanctioned Intranet, accessible to only a fraction of the population.

This hasn’t stopped many despots from taking to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Radio Free Europe has a roundup of some authoritarian leaders who have taken to social media over the past several years. Whether for straight propagandizing purposes, like the Ayatollah Ali Khomeini’s mysterious Facebook page that appeared this past fall, or occasionally sharing yoga updates, à la Uzbek First Daughter Gulnara Karimova, these pages offer an unexpected, paradoxical glimpse into the minds behind repressive regimes.

Sifting through these updates, it seems that, in spite of the state of free speech in their countries, many of these authoritarian leaders possess relatively uncensored social media personas — more so than American politicians with armies of staffers to work online documentation. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev Instagrammed throughout the holiday season, after denying the statehood of Armenia on Twitter in November; the Azeri government regularly jails online dissidents for speaking against the government. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has tweeted about eating burgers with Barack Obama and retweeted a post that called critics of Putin “c***sucking sheep.” The purportedly official North Korean Twitter account only follows three people, among them a 25-year old web entrepreneur from Texas who’s pals with Dennis Quaid.

With the growing authoritarian propensity for social media, will there be conversations on the horizon for these regimes about Internet freedom? Uzbekistan’s Karimova — alias GooGoosha — is in many ways the public face of the regime she may someday inherit, in no small part due to her online presence. In November she engaged in a rapid-fire Twitter debate with an official from the International Crisis Group who asked her to answer for the country’s human rights violations. If authoritarian figures are putting themselves out on social media, they’ll have to answer to the authority of the crowd.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

NYC Open Data Advocates Focus on Quality And Value Over Quantity

The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications plans to publish more than double the amount of datasets this year than it published to the portal last year, new Commissioner Anne Roest wrote last week in an annual report mandated by the city's open data law, with 135 datasets scheduled to be released this year, and almost 100 more to come in 2015. But as preparations are underway for City Council open data oversight hearings in the fall, what matters more to advocates than the absolute number of the datasets is their quality. GO

Civic Tech and Engagement: Announcing a New Series on What Makes it "Thick"

Announcing a new series of feature articles that we will be publishing over the next several months, thanks to the support of the Rita Allen Foundation. Our focus is on digitally-enabled civic engagement, and in particular, how and under what conditions "thick" digital civic engagement occurs. What we're after is answers to this question: When does a tech tool or platform enable actual people to make ongoing and significant contributions to each other, to a place or cause, at a scale that produces demonstrable change? GO

monday >

Tweets2Rue Helps Homeless to Help Themselves Through Twitter

While most solutions to homelessness focus on addressing physical needs -- a roof over the head and food to eat -- one initiative in France known as Tweets2Rue knows that for the homeless, a house is still not a home, so to speak: the homeless are often entrenched in a viscous cycle of social isolation that keeps them invisible and powerless. GO

Oakland's Sudo Mesh Looks to Counter Censorship and Digital Divide With a Mesh Network

In Oakland, a city with deep roots in radical activism and a growing tech scene at odds with the hyper-capital-driven Silicon Valley, those at the Sudo Room hackerspace believe that the solution to a wide range of problems, from censorship to the digital divide, is a mesh net, a type of decentralized network that is resilient to censorship and disruption and can also bring connectivity to poor communities.

GO

More