Technology can aide democracy but it can also promote dictatorship.
Internet (new media) can really impede democratisation. Blogs are the new faxes. Blogs and fax machines have transformed the economics of protest. One former KPTC boss told me how Moi banned the fax machine because it enabled activists to communicate so easily.
Even acquiring a telephone line went through a stringent approval of state institutions because the government didn’t trust an empowered citizen. Rebelion would be easy.
Many assume that if you give people enough internet connectivity then totalitarianism would fall. The iPod liberalism mentality. Do you think that every Iranian, Chinese, Russian or North Korean who love iPod also love liberal democracy. Intended vs actual use of technology people. This trend is catching up in Kenya and many neighbouring states like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
You will realise that new media can be a catalyst in situations of genocide like radio stations (Radio Rwanda and RTLM) did in Rwanda. But totalitarian states like Iran, Rwanda, Kenya, North Korea and the like are also building something called the spinternet (spin+internet).
States are paying bloggers to spin what is happening. Censorship is not effective so bloggers spinning stories are effective. Key PR and marketing agencies like Scangroup are now having bloggers in their payroll to muzzle those who might speak negatively of thier clients. Safaricom’s digital media strategy under squad digital has seen many employed at Squad to counter any negative mention with an avalanche of positive praise from bot accounts.
The more you block, the more it spreads. So to control stories, hire bloggers to spin stories.
Bloggers are hired to muzzle free speech in Kenya. Corporates hire bloggers not to speak about the bad side of their products. The internet is strengthening dictatorships.
The likes of Bitange Ndemo, Mugo Kibati, and Catherine Adeya who encouraged tech adoption in the country through various initiatives are also the biggest critics of anyone who tried to use the same digital channels to demand accountability. Their intention is that most of Kenyans Online should have fun but not engage in processes which will improve accountability in the country.
You know something called “authoritarian deliberation”? Bloggers don’t have much info of most issues they speak about because they lack the research capabilities most mainstream media houses have. So corporates and dictatorships offer them that information. But it is what suits the subject not THE TRUTH.
Secondly, authoritarian regimes would try to share the blame and spin stories. Like Jubilee government would try to muzzle Raila and Kalonzo by telling them that they MUST NOT speak ill of the current government because they once served in the government and “they were no different.”
Authoritarian regimes would also use new media to try to increase their legitimacy by enhancing its use and citizen interaction through it. Like Jubilee having State House create a portal where you can report corruption cases. It is all a scheme. But dictators control the agenda. In Iran, Twitter revolution was misreported. Having access to social media is great to many authoritarian states. It is open source intelligence. NIS don’t torture anymore. They can get the info online without torturing anyone.
And totalitarian regimes loves the internet because it encourages digital captivity. Those you call digital natives turn into digital captives addicted to porn, online games and other vices online and so will never go to the street to protest. For every Boniface Mwangi throwing tantrums in the street, there are 2 or more @xtiandela and @c_Nyakundih taka takas downloading porn, buying Twitter followers (story for another day) and trolling celebrities for some online cred. Nothing can be seen to be wrong with this.
You will find internet addiction high in countries with poor democratic records like China, Iran and Russia. That is a key strategy of totalitarian states. 42% of Chinese teenagers are addicted to the internet while in USA it is only 18%. 65% of Chinese teenagers have a parallel life online. The figure is only 13% for USA. That is the fact of this so called new media. So you might have many people online given all the freedom but you will never get them engage in governance and dictate change because they have been snared into a virtual social trap. See in Kenya the emergence of the so called socialites whose only talent lies in Chiken mash’s enhanced bums which they wiggle at every interested soul online.
So you find that in the pyramid of social media use, activism (campaigns) is at the top followed by education (TED, Wikipedia), chats and having fun (pornography, games, youtube) in that order. The vast number of digital population are on having fun mode most of the time. Activism is suffering because that is how the totalitarian states are promoting the web. They want less engagement and criticism of government programmes but more of the natives having fun.
We need to stop thinking of the number of digital devices per capita but start thinking about how we can empower those already online to properly engage and challenge their leaders.