A new academic research paper sheds more light on the role of the Internet and social networks in popular uprisings, observes Jeff Sonderman. While the social Web does connect people and spread messages, it also makes some people more passive and satisfied to monitor events rather than participate in them. For that reason, dictators err by shutting off all Internet access, as Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt on Jan. 28, according to a paper by Navid Hassanpour, a political science graduate student at Yale. He writes:
“It implicated many apolitical citizens unaware of or uninterested in the unrest; it forced more face-to-face communication, i.e., more physical presence in streets; and finally it effectively decentralized the rebellion on the 28th through new hybrid communication tactics, producing a quagmire much harder to control and repress than one massive gathering in Tahrir.”
Today’s savvier authoritarian regimes are learning to throttle bandwidth so the Internet is accessible but less useful, or to shut off access only in certain neighborhoods, the Times’ Noam Cohen reports.