UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Internet control and authoritarianism : regimes defying political change Li, Jessica


An oft-stated view held by scholars and political observers is that given the unique characteristics of the Internet, the technology offers real opportunities for democratization and political transformation, especially in societies where the basic rights of freedom of expression and the press are constricted by state control. This thesis seeks to challenge this main assumption by examining the impact of the Internet along with the politics surrounding its use in Asia, with specific attention to the cases of China, Singapore and Iran. This thesis postulates that in the cases of certain authoritarian regimes such as China and Singapore, not only has the presence and use of the Internet failed to spawn strong opposition movements, but authorities in these states have cleverly entered the domain of online expression and have utilized the technology to improve governance and control of these societies. The conditions which make it possible for certain states to suppress online activism, and which in turn contributes to the strengthening of authorial control are then clearly identified and delineated. They include, namely: a strong regulatory regime; an effective use of e-governance and the pacification of Internet entrepreneurs. Iran serves as a contrast case to China and Singapore as civil society actors in the Islamic country have demonstrated a clear interest in participating in a struggle against the state by entering and articulating their positions in the virtual space of cyber interaction. The notable absence of stated conditions in Iran, however, clearly shows that a confluence of circumstances is still necessary for regimes to more fully manipulate online spaces. It is not the intention of the thesis to project the notion that China’s infamous “Firewall” is one-hundred percent full-proof or that citizens in these countries are deprived of all access to controversial news and media. The main conclusion that is drawn is that despite the government’s open promotion and dissemination of Internet technology, certain states have managed to strike a precarious balance by also maintaining control of the public agora.

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