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 today >

In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

GO

thursday >

NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

GO

More