The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom

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Overview

Updated with a new Afterword

“The revolution will be Twittered!” declared journalist Andrew Sullivan after protests erupted in Iran. But as journalist and social commentator Evgeny Morozov argues in The Net Delusion, the Internet is a tool that both revolutionaries and authoritarian governments can use. For all of the talk in the West about the power of the Internet to democratize societies, regimes in Iran and China are as stable and repressive as ever. Social media sites have been used there to entrench dictators and threaten dissidents, making it harder—not easier—to promote democracy.

Marshalling a compelling set of case studies, The Net Delusion shows why the cyber-utopian stance that the Internet is inherently liberating is wrong, and how ambitious and seemingly noble initiatives like the promotion of “Internet freedom” are misguided and, on occasion, harmful.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2012 Goldsmith Book Prize A New York Times Notable Book of 2011 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.”
Lee Siegel
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.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
Morozov (contributing editor, Foreign Policy), currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University, here examines the evolving role of the Internet in activism, dissent, and authoritarian regimes. He investigates the impact of a range of media on social revolution and activism from television in East Germany to Twitter during Iran's Green Revolution, intertwining that analysis with discussion of the ways governments are able to use the Internet for surveillance of political activity, propaganda dissemination, and censorship. In his complex examination, he analyzes the effect of the proliferation of available entertainment and access to consumer goods on the potential for political activity, arguing that opening societies to further consumerism and to Western cultural media has in some ways deterred political activism. Morozov's argument that the West conflates democratization with consumerism uncovers a critique of the West here for its complacent belief that the Internet and supposed freedom of information is a certain pathway to democratization. VERDICT Highly recommended and likely to be popular with political observers, policy wonks, activists, information junkies, and academics. [See also The Offensive Internet, reviewed on page opposite.—Ed.]—Candice A. Kail, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York
Kirkus Reviews

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.

The author provides a damaging assessment of domestic and foreign Internet policy that remains entertaining despite its dour warnings. As the Internet becomes more widely available in remote corners of the world, writers Morozov, it becomes harder to regulate. Even without a blueprint or common grammar, policymakers, social critics and social scientists tend to embrace online communication as an emancipatory political mechanism that promotes democracy. Everywhere, commentators focus on the amazing revolutionary potential of the Internet to broadcast political struggle, rather than the political struggle itself. In 2009, thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran to protest what they saw as the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Armed with smartphones and Twitter accounts, protestors were able to reach the world in a matter of minutes, and images of police brutality quickly reached the Internet-surfing world via Facebook and Twitter. When the initial exuberance behind the "Twitter revolution" waned, the Iranian government used the same social-networking sites, even YouTube, to identify and arrest would-be insurrectionists. As the Internet proves ineffective in the struggle for global democratic revolution, it expertly transforms entire populations into passive consumers of commercial mass media, revealing one of the most fundamental of political problems: motivation. Assuming that the Internetcanbe regulated, how can it promote global democracy while the world's connected millions are surfing YouTube for funny cat videos? It's a hopeless battle, but despite the immeasurable barriers to Internet-driven democracy, Morozov still believes the Internetcanbe used to promote democracy, as long as new policies are unbiased, realistic and cognizant of the connections between the Internet, local political contexts and foreign-policy agendas. Easier said than done.

A serious consideration of the online world that sparkles with charm and wit.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610391061
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 426,413
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov) is the author of To Save Everything Click Here. He is a senior editor to The New Republic. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, the London Review of Books, and many other publications. His monthly column comes out in Slate, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), El Pais (Spain), Corriere della Sera (Italy), and several other newspapers. He was born in Belarus.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Net Delusion

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Still reading but interesting

    The premise on this book is Cynical look at freedom on the Internet world wide.. I am still reading.. but I would not say I agree with the authors views of events

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  • Posted May 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Stunningly thorough, cogent look at social networking "at work."

    Morozov is debunking the notion that internet access = internet freedom. In fact, he tells us that internet "freedom" is a term with no meaning in the conventional sense since it implies that users are free to say what they like and use the technology for their own ends. But, his argument goes, if one user (an authoritarian regime, say, with a reason to dampen enthusiasm for democratic reforms) controls any points of internet access, or subverts the open sharing of ideas on social networking platforms to their own ends, "freedom" immediately becomes compromised.

    Morozov compiles an extraordinary collection of examples from around the world of how this is happening now, and challenges (especially U.S.) policy makers to acknowledge that funding bloggers or promoting social networking sites is not an adequate response in and of itself to authoritarian regimes and/or dictatorships. He argues persuasively that U.S. Secretary of State Clinton's speeches on Internet freedom do not adequately address the issues of authoritarian control, and suggests that only by closely aligning stated country-specific political policies with the promotion of Internet access in these same countries will produce the results the U.S. government seeks.

    In other words, we have to stop talking out of both sides of our face. We can't suppose that financing a corrupt regime on the one hand and supplying financing for anti-regime bloggers on the other is going to produce creditable results. And when it comes to Internet freedoms, one size does not fit in all cases. Some governments have embraced the Internet revolution so thoroughly that they are closely intertwined in the social networking sites, uncovering dissidents and following their adherents. Some have only the crudest knowledge of and reaction to social networking: witness the Internet shutdown for several days during the protests against Egyptian government.

    At first I thought Morozov was arguing for international regulation of the Internet and perhaps even self-policing by internet services providers. But I realized he is far too realist to imagine that international regulation (were it even possible) would be practically effective and that asking internet service providers to police is even more frightening than the authoritarian regimes he opposes. But his contention that the Internet too often "empowers the strong and disempowers the weak" is probably true. However, adding even fractionally to the access of the disempowered means proportionally huge gains in their knowledge and connectivity with ideas and others sharing their beliefs. As messy and inadequate a poorly-regulated Internet may be, it has undoubtedly had some effect on information dissemination to good effect. It is now up to those shackled masses to bend their minds to the task of building better governance than that which they have had to suffer in the past.

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    Posted September 14, 2011

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    Posted June 7, 2011

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    Posted December 30, 2013

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