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The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom [Hardcover]

Evgeny Morozov
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Book Description

Dec 14 2010
“The revolution will be Twittered!” declared journalist Andrew Sullivan after protests erupted in Iran in June 2009. Yet for all the talk about the democratizing power of the Internet, regimes in Iran and China are as stable and repressive as ever. In fact, authoritarian governments are effectively using the Internet to suppress free speech, hone their surveillance techniques, disseminate cutting-edge propaganda, and pacify their populations with digital entertainment. Could the recent Western obsession with promoting democracy by digital means backfire?
 
In this spirited book, journalist and social commentator Evgeny Morozov shows that by falling for the supposedly democratizing nature of the Internet, Western do-gooders may have missed how it also entrenches dictators, threatens dissidents, and makes it harder—not easier—to promote democracy. Buzzwords like “21st-century statecraft” sound good in PowerPoint presentations, but the reality is that “digital diplomacy” requires just as much oversight and consideration as any other kind of diplomacy.
 
Marshaling compelling evidence, Morozov shows why we must stop thinking of the Internet and social media as inherently liberating and why ambitious and seemingly noble initiatives like the promotion of “Internet freedom” might have disastrous implications for the future of democracy as a whole. 


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Review

Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
“Evgeny Morozov is wonderfully knowledgeable about the Internet—he seems to have studied every use of it, or every political use, in every country in the world (and to have read all the posts). And he is wonderfully sophisticated and tough-minded about politics. This is a rare combination, and it makes for a powerful argument against the latest versions of technological romanticism. His book should be required reading for every political activist who hopes to change the world on the Internet.”
 
Thomas P.M. Barnett, author, The Pentagon’s New Map, and senior managing director, Enterra Solutions LLC
“Evgeny Morozov has produced a rich survey of recent history that reminds us that everybody wants connectivity but also varying degrees of control over content, and that connectivity on its own is a very poor predictor of political pluralism…. By doing so, he’s gored any number of sacred cows, but he’s likewise given us a far more realistic sense of what’s possible in cyberspace—both good and bad—in the years ahead. Morozov excels at this sort of counter-intuitive analysis, and he instantly recasts a number of foreign policy debates with this timely book.”
 
Stephen M. Walt, Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University 
Net Delusion is a brilliant book and a great read. Politicians and pundits have hailed the Internet as a revolutionary force that will empower the masses and consign authoritarian governments to the ash-heap of history, but Morozov explains why such naïve hopes are sadly misplaced. With a keen eye for detail and a probing, skeptical intelligence, he shows that the Web is as likely to distract as to empower, and that both dictators and dissidents can exploit its novel features. If you thought that Facebook, Twitter, and the World Wide Web would trigger a new wave of democratic transformations, read this book and think again.”

Malcolm Gladwell
“Evgeny Morozov offers a rare note of wisdom and common sense, on an issue overwhelmed by digital utopians'”
 
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2010
“In his debut, Foreign Policy contributing editor Morozov pulls the Internet into sharp focus, exposing the limits of its inner logic, its reckless misuse and the dangerous myopia of its champions. A serious consideration of the online world that sparkles with charm and wit.”
 
The Economist, January 7, 2011
“the resulting book is not just unfailingly readable: it is also a provocative, enlightening and welcome riposte to the cyber-utopian worldview.”
 
New Statesman, January 7, 2011
“This book is a passionate and heavily researched account of the case against the cyber-utopians.”
 
The Independent, January, 2011
Internet freedom", in short, is a valiant sword with a number of blades, existing in several dimensions simultaneously. As we go down the rabbit-hole of WikiLeaks, Morozov's humane and rational lantern will help us land without breaking our legs.”
 
Huntington News, January 7, 2011
Morozov's ‘The Net Delusion’ should be read by cockeyed optimists and pessimists alike. It's as important today as McLuhan's  books ("The Gutenberg Galaxy," "Understanding Media," "The Medium is the Massage," etc.) were in the 1950s through the 1970s.”
 
New York Times, January, 23 2011
The Net Delusion, argues that Westerners get carried away by the potential of the Internet to democratize societies, failing to appreciate that dictators can also use the Web to buttress their regimes. A fair point.”
 
Boston Globe, February 9, 2011
“Morozov has produced an invaluable book. Copies should be smuggled to every would-be Twitter revolutionary, and to their clueless groupies in the Western democracies.”
 
New York Times Book Review, February 6, 2011
As Evgeny Morozov demonstrates in ‘The Net Delusion,’ his brilliant and courageous book, the Internet’s contradictions and confusions are just becoming visible through the fading mist of Internet euphoria. Morozov is interested in the internet’s political ramifications. ‘What if the liberating potential of the Internet also contains the seeds of depoliticization and thus dedemocratization?’ he asks. The Net delusion of his title is just that. Contrary to the ‘cyberutopians,’ as he calls them, who consider the Internet a powerful tool of political emancipation, Morozov convincingly argues that, in freedom’s name, the Internet more often than not constricts or even abolishes freedom.”
 
New York Times, February 6, 2011
“Among cyber-intellectuals in America, a fascinating debate has broken out about whether social media can do as much harm as good in totalitarian states like Egypt. In his fiercely argued new book, “The Net Delusion,” Evgeny Morozov…challenges the conventional wisdom of what he calls “cyber-utopianism.” Among other mischievous facts, he reports that there were only 19,235 registered Twitter accounts in Iran (0.027 percent of the population) on the eve of what many American pundits rebranded its “Twitter Revolution.” More damning, Morozov also demonstrates how the digital tools so useful to citizens in a free society can be co-opted by tech-savvy dictators, police states and garden-variety autocrats to spread propaganda and to track (and arrest) conveniently networked dissidents….This provocative debate isn’t even being acknowledged in most American coverage of the Internet’s role in the current uprisings.”

 

Wall Street Journal
One of Michael Gazzaniga’s best books of the year.  “In ‘The Net Delusion,’ Evgeny Morozov, in a sassy and enlightening way, takes on the idea that the Internet and social media are going to march the world's people to democracy and peace.”

 

About the Author

Evgeny Morozov is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and Boston Review and a Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation. Morozov is currently also a visiting scholar at Stanford University. He was previously a Yahoo! Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, where he remains on the board of the Information Program. Morozov’s writings have appeared in the Economist, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, Slate, Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the San Francisco Chronicle, Prospect, Dissent, and many other publications.


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gaining momentum down a slippery hill March 24 2011
By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The Net Delusion is powerful, and it gains power as it rolls through its 320 pages. It took quite a while to lock me in; the first hundred pages gave me little I didn't already know. I admit I began to get fidgety, but the next couple of hundred pages gave me a ton of insight, building on what came before. The structure of it all is therefore quite impressive, as is the research. Morosov seems to have looked at essentially everything, prying a single, highly targeted quote from most sources. The result is a very inclusive and empirically supported shot at the Alice in Wonderland world of the internet as dictator-killer. The pace quickens, the momentum builds. It becomes a compelling read. Bravo, Morosov.

I particularly appreciated the view from the other side - of the ocean, of the rose-colored glasses, of the political spectrum. For example, Morosov says that as other countries develop their own social networking and search services (if only to keep track of their own potentially troublesome citizens), the Googles and Facebooks the US offers are being seen more and more as digital versions of Halliburton and Exxon. That's a perspective that should be shaking things up at Google, which portrays itself as the good guys from every conceivable angle.

Morosov wraps it up with a call for perspective - historical perspective. We will not change human nature with the internet, because nothing ever has, and the internet is just another technology that will fail to make critical changes - like telegraph, telephone, radio, and TV. And without knowing the past and the present, we have no business making naive prognostications about Twitter saving Iran - which clearly is not happening - or China suddenly rising up because of Amazon's department store on the net. It's a cold shower of important perspective. It needed to be said, and I can't imagine it being better said than it is in The Net Delusion
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4.0 out of 5 stars In defence of political realism online Dec 20 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book deserves its 'must read' status amongst Internet governance scholars and policy makers. In The Internet Delusion, Morozov argues that we have to recognize and reject Internet-centrist and utopian approaches to Internet policy. Whereas 'net-utopianism argues for what should be done, centralists argue that problems should be framed through the lens of the Internet rather than according to the specific question or problem at hand. Both centrist and utopian approaches, Morozov argues, should be rejected because they handicap thinking about Internet policies. Instead, a realist approach should be adopted. Throughout the text we read about the consequences of centrist-thinking: the implications the U.S. State Department faces from influencing American Web 2.0 companies; problems associated with unthinking policy choices concerning freedom of speech and Internet access; logical shortfalls of applying Cold War language to web censorship; the dangers of ignoring long lasting political advocacy groups that lack web savvy. Critically, he rejects a neutralist position concerning Internet services and insists that all networks require ethical investigation and critical evaluation to uncover the services' negative applications. Morozov is a welcome, highly critical, participant in the governance debate and a must read for anyone interested in critiques of contemporary American Internet-related policy making.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent, Realistic Take on Internet Freedom Jan. 6 2011
By Kevin D - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov is an instant-classic in the field of technology studies that will be of interest to both serious scholars of the global Internet and those interested in making sense of the widespread excitement about using technology for advancing goals such as individual freedom.

Morozov's starting point is the belief, promoted by everyone from world leaders to prominent bloggers, that the Internet is an emancipatory agent. Millions of dollars have been spent guided by the belief that if unfettered Internet access is made available globally, especially in repressive countries, democracy will prevail because citizens will be empowered to speak freely, coordinate politically, etc. Morozov convincingly argues that the truth is far more nuanced and difficult. Although much of the rhetoric and policy in this area comes from the belief that technology has been an essential tool in promoting individual freedom throughout history, most notably being arguments about samizdat's role in ending the Cold War, Morozov provides a very readable explanation of how this metaphorical thinking is misguided.

Instead, he argues that the Internet is subject to the power of the state and therefore is largely impotent as a mechanism for promoting democracy. He shows that throughout the world, the Internet is a) more likely to be used for entertainment purposes, b) censored in ways that are not easily surmountable, c) used a tool for propaganda by both governments and individuals that are not pro-West, and d) used for spying on dissidents.

The Net Delusion is thoroughly entertaining throughout, but that doesn't stop it from digging into some very serious subjects. The final chapters provide an excellent explanation of the history and philosophy of technology - tough subjects that are rarely considered, least of all in such an approachable manner. Finally, Morozov closes with what he calls a cyber-realist manifesto to guide thinking going forward. There are certainly bits to quibble with throughout the book, but overall, it is an excellent work and highly recommended.
86 of 102 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting, but overly-pessimist, look at the relationship between Net & global politics Jan. 4 2011
By Adam Thierer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In The Net Delusion, Morozov positions himself the ultimate Net "realist," aiming to bring a dose of realpolitik to discussions about how much of a difference the Net and digital technologies make to advancing democracy and freedom. His depressing answer: Not much. Indeed, Morozov's book is one big wet blanket on the theory that "technologies of freedom" can help liberate humanity from the yoke of repressive government.

Morozov clearly relishes his skunk at the garden party role, missing few opportunities to belittle those who subscribe to such theories. If you're one of those who tinted your Twitter avatar green as an expression of solidarity with Iranian "Green Movement" dissidents, Morozov's view is that, at best, you're wasting your time and, at worst, you're aiding and abetting tyrants by engaging in a form of "slacktivism" that has little hope of advancing real regime change. The portrait he paints of technology and democracy is a dismal one in which cyber-utopian ideals of information as liberator are not just rejected but inverted. He regards such "cyber-utopian" dreams as counter-productive, even dangerous, to the advance of democracy and human freedom.

Much of the scorn he heaps on the cyber-utopians is well-deserved, although I think there are far fewer of them around than Morozov imagines. Nonetheless, there certainly is a bit too much Pollyanna-ish hyper-optimism at play in debates about the Net's role in advancing liberation of those peoples who are being subjected to tyrannical rule across the planet.

But Morozov simply doesn't know when to quit. His relentless and highly repetitive critique goes well overboard. We can all agree that technology is just one of many tools that can be harnessed to keep the power of the State in check or advance important civic / charitable causes; other factors and forces play an even more important role in promoting democracy and, in particular, ending tyranny. Yet, in his zeal to counter those who have placed too great an emphasis on the role of information technology, Morozov himself has gone too far in the opposite extreme in The Net Delusion by suggesting that technology's role in transforming States or politics is either mostly irrelevant or even, at times, counter-productive.

The more profound problem with Morozov's thesis is that, if he is correct that the Net poses such risks, or undermines the cause of democracy-promotion, isn't the logical recommendation that flows from it technology control or entertainment repression? He never really makes it clear how far he'd go to put the information genie back in the bottle since he simply refuses to be nailed down on specifics int he book. But his tone throughout the book -- speaking of the Net as "a great danger," and "a threat" with many "negative side effects" -- seems to suggest that some form of technological control or information repression may be necessary.

Morozov is on somewhat stronger footing in highlighting the paradoxical danger of voluntary information exposure in an age of ubiquitous digital connectivity and communications. But let's say it is true that social networking tools and other digital technologies which allow greater online personalization and socialization also potentially facilitate increased government surveillance by the State. What are we to do about that? Again, he doesn't really say.

He also scores some points for rightly pointing to the hypocrisy at play in the United States today -- by both government and corporations --" when it comes to the promotion of Net freedom globally. American leaders in both government and business need to better align their actions with their rhetoric when it comes to the interaction of government and technology. Too often, both groups are guilty of talking a big game about the Internet and freedom, only to later take steps to undermine that cause. But, strangely, he continues on to suggest that we should simply get used to the increasing politicization of the Net, even though it's unclear how that would help his cause.

To summarize, Morozov is quite right about the excessive euphoria currently surrounding the relationship of the Net to politics and regime change, but I think he's gone a bit overboard in The Net Delusion.

[My complete review of Morozov's "Net Delusion" can be found on the Technology Liberation Front Blog]
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Net Delusion Dec 22 2011
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Social studies scholar Evgeny Morozov may occasionally be cranky and stylistically conflicted, but his original arguments provide refreshing insights. He debunks nearly religious beliefs about the intrinsically positive power of the Internet and total information access. Morozov demonstrates how propagating this optimistic view of the web drowns out more subtle positions and keeps governmental and societal attention focused on less meaningful activities. getAbstract recommends this worthy polemic to those engaged in cyberculture, those trying to decipher cultural change, and those dedicated to understanding and promoting freer societies.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best book about geopolitics and the Internet Jan. 8 2011
By Peter J. Fried - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Net Delusion is the first non-academic book to place the Internet in the proper geopolitical and historical settings. It's written by someone who has deep familiarity with latest developments in both global affairs and technology - and the resulting book is an extremely well-informed text that provides a much-needed correction to some of the wild and irresponsible cyber-utopian claims of pundits like Tom Friedman or Clay Shirky.

The Net Delusion was a pleasure to read. Morosov is a skillful and funny narrator with a dark sense of humor (perhaps, the product of his Eastern European roots?) who is amazingly well-read; the book builds on fields as diverse as sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and history but is also rich in examples and anecdotes - it never gets boring. I found Morosov's insights into the Cold War roots of the current e-euphoria are particularly enlightening...

Morosov doesn't shy from controversy, providing one of the sharpest critiques of the US government's affair with "Internet freedom" to date (The Net Delusion makes a convincing case that in the long term it's likely to cause more harm than good to the broader democratic project). Silicon Valley gets plenty of bad rap too - for its complicity in enabling censorship in countries like China, in stealing user privacy, in facilitating surveillance by aurhotriaan governments...

The Net Delusion manages to pull off the impossible: to simultaneously appeal to geeks who read Wired and policy wonks who read Foreign Affairs - and to remain highly readable throughout. Solid five-stars.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All The World Loves A Lolcat March 15 2011
By Diziet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Growing up in Belarus and then living in the US, Mr Morozov has had opportunities to view the Internet from 'both sides'. He has seen at first hand both authoritarian attempts at controlling the spread of the Internet and libertarian attempts at maintaining the Internet's growth throughout the world.

This experience has allowed him to develop some useful views. He contrasts attitudes to the Internet basically between 'cyber-utopians' and 'cyber-cons'. The former he defines as those who have:

'...a quasi-religious belief in the power of the Internet to do supernatural things, from eradicating illiteracy in Africa to organizing all of the world's information...Opening up closed societies and flushing them with democracy juice until they shed off their authoritarian skin is just one of the expectations placed on the Internet these days.' (P19)

On the other hand, there are the 'cyber-cons' (an on-line version of neo-conservatives) who still view the world from an essentially Cold War perspective. Thus, they are bound by cold-war metaphors. But, as he points out:

'Breaching a powerful firewall is in no way similar to the breaching of the Berlin Wall or the lifting of passport controls at Checkpoint Charlie...[T]he cyber-wall metaphor falsely suggests that once digital barriers are removed, new and completely different barriers won't spring up in their place' (P44-45)

Between these two extremes, which overlap and inform each other, he analyses the effects of Twitter, Facebook, mobile telephony and the growing belief that all dissidents have to do is set up a Facebook page and the revolution will miraculously occur. He points out, in some detail, just how false these beliefs are and clearly shows that authoritarian regimes are hardly likely to stand back and watch in horror, but are themselves active participants. In fact, organizing demonstrations and the like by mobile phone or Twitter can actually deliver the dissidents into the hands of the authorities.

As stated, China is not going to sit back and simply let lots of people create anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) blogs, web-sites and Facebook pages. They can mobilise their own supporters to create the same Internet facilities to actively support the regime (this is neatly confirmed in 'The Party' by Richard McGregor). In many countries, this has been a growing phenomenon with or without active government support. The number of web-sites and blogs promoting Russian nationalism, for example, provide a significant counter to any 'democratising movement'.

Morozov makes some pointed historical comparisons - in the past, it was believed that the telegraph would bring about World Peace, then it was the aeroplane, next radio (remember the BBC's motto 'Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation'), then television. As we can see, none of these previous technologies appear to have enhanced the opportunities for greater international understanding, instead often bringing about a 'tribalism' as groups retreat from the huge volume of information into self-reinforcing cliques - an idea also explored by Jodi Dean in her book 'Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies'. Think here of US talk radio and Fox News.

Morozov challenges the notion that all these disaffected people in authoritarian states are hungry for news from the 'outside', from the liberated West. He's right, of course. As he puts it in a chapter entitled 'Orwell's Favourite lolcat' the vast majority of people are far more interested in funny videos on YouTube and pornography.

He creates a further contrast between Orwellian and Huxleyan visions of the future - 'The Orwell-Huxley Sandwich Has Expired' (P75) and suggests that we are far closer to the Huxley end of this spectrum than the Orwellian. Personally, I'm not convinced. As he says himself, the trouble with metaphor is that it is easy to go from saying that something is 'like' something else to saying it is 'exactly like' and so, to my mind, what we have, what is developing, owes much to both Orwell and Huxley - from 'celeb TV' and 'lolcats' to ubiquitous CCTV and monitored mobile phones (or the two together, in the case of the News of the World).

This is a highly detailed examination of the Internet as it has developed over the last twenty years but, to be honest, it does get rather repetitive. The final chapter attempts to put forward some pointers and some suggestions for maintaining the openness of the Internet. But these are rather rushed and not given nearly as much detail as the exposition of the problems currently faced by the technology.

Still, it is very informative, if not particularly optimistic. Given developments since he wrote the book (the US government's continued attacks on WikiLeaks and, by extension, Twitter, the formation of Facebook groups such as the Gaza Youth Movement, where you can simply link to the page to show your (virtual) support) I think we are seeing the slow end of the 'Adam Smithian' free-range Internet and what develops to take it's place will not be so inspirational.
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