Named Networked Authoritarianism in China and Beyond: Implications for global Internet freedom, and sponsored the Hoover Institution & the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), Stanford University, the paper discusses the use of the internet by China. While external sources of political news and influence may be blocked, the Chinese government is making extensive use of the internet internally to empower citizens in support of the present regime - using legal means and extensive censorship controls to channel online discussions into politically acceptable thread.
It discusses the rise of 'networked authoritarianism' - where an authoritarian regime embraces and adjusts to the changes brought by digital communications technologies and co-opts the medium. Permitting citizens the illusion of freedom of speech, the ability to discuss social ills and influence some government policies, while retaining strict control over political expression.
I think it is important to bear in mind that by itself the internet will not necessarily lead to greater transparency, openness and democratic governance. It requires the efforts of individuals and organisations to unleash its potential.
To quote two of Rebecca's conclusions:
The business and regulatory environment for telecommunications and Internet services must become a new and important focus of human rights activism and policy. Free and democratic political discourse requires Internet and telecommunications regulation and policymaking that is transparent, accountable, and open to reform both through the courts and the political system. Without such baseline conditions, opposition, dissent, and reform movements will face an increasingly uphill battle against increasingly innovative forms of censorship and surveillance, assisted by companies that operate and shape activists’ digital environment.
Finally citizens and policymakers of democratic nations must not forget that global Internet freedom begins at home. One of the most urgent tasks of the world’s democracies is to develop best practices for openness, accountability, rule of law, and transparent governance of their own digital networks. That is the best possible long-term weapon against the spread of networked authoritarianism. It is also essential in order to ensure the long-term health of the world’s existing democracies.