Internet is definitely good for democracy…
…but you are not right when saying that recent revolts in Kyrgyzstan could never have happened without the web!
The Newsweek wrote on April 30 about the impact of internet both on building democracy around the world and making the dictators much stronger with easily available information online. Well, I do believe that social media and new internet tools make it easy for people to obtain and disseminate news. But I also do believe that with the help of experienced internet geeks, dictators can strengthen their control over people. And the Newsweek is right calling it a cat-and-mouse game. I agree with it and I am not going to argue with it.
The debate I am going to have is about the subheading the Newsweek used for its article on internet helping to build democracy. To be more precise, it is about the statement of the Newsweek that it is internet that made the recent revolts happen in Kyrgyzstan.
Many, including the Newsweek, mistakenly think that if not internet, the recent events in Kyrgyzstan, which ousted the president and took away lives of 85 people, would not have happened at all. Why mistakenly? Well, unlike the same events of 2005, which also made the president flee (but was peaceful), the demonstrations were organized on grassroots level, with minimum influence of the opposition parties, and it all started in regions like Naryn and Talas, where penetration of internet is very low and majority of people do not know what Twitter, WordPress or Livejournal is.
This graph shows that Naryn and Talas, where people organized big demonstrations against poverty, unemployment, skyrocketing utility prices and family based ruling of the president, have 0% and 1% share of internet audience of Kyrgyzstan respectively! The great majority of internet users in Kyrgyzstan (77%) are based in the capital city Bishkek. And a death toll list shows that most of those, who were shot dead when storming the White House, were originally from regions, not Bishkek. Therefore, it is really hard to believe that it was internet that helped people gather and demonstrate against the government.
Telling that internet did not play any role in recent revolts is also not true. Social media, especially online forums and Twitter, a microblogging service, did a great job in disseminating information about what was going on in Kyrgyzstan before, during and after April 7. These online tools were helpful especially when several independent news websites were blocked by previous Kyrgyz authorities. Kyrgyz twitterers used hashtags #freekg and #kyrgyzstan when giving information or links about uprisings, thus creating hubs of information, where one could find interesting first hand information or get links to related articles and multimedia online content. It is true that the audience that was using these new online tools were disappointed by Bakiev’s government. However, they were not the backbone of the uprising on April 7.
Thus, the Newsweek is not right when saying that the bloody uprising in Bishkek, which took away many lives and ousted the president, would have never happened without web. Internet did a great job in terms accessing and disseminating information freely. But it never was an ultimate cause of the public uprising.
Crossposted from Tolkun Umaraliev’s blog