Smart Dictators Should Embrace Social Media, Not Turn Them Off

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 29 2011 12:38 PM

Smart Dictators Should Embrace Social Media, Not Turn Them Off

108817113
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

In another blow to the sinking theory that social media made all the difference for the Arab Spring’s revolutions, a new study suggests that Twitter, Facebook, and their ilk can be bad news for political action.  Navid Hassanpour, a grad student in political science at Yale, argues in “Media Disruption Exacerbates Revolutionary Unrest: Evidence from Mubarak’s Natural Experiment” that social media can be distracting. As the New York Times puts it:

[A]ll the Twitter posting, texting and Facebook wall-posting is great for organizing and spreading a message of protest, but it can also spread a message of caution, delay, confusion or, I don’t have time for all this politics, did you see what Lady Gaga is wearing?

Advertisement

Savvier political leaders take advantage of that last bit, as Evgeny Morozov, a New America Foundation fellow, argued in his recent book The Net Delusion. Russia, for example, has invested heavily in entertainment that Morozov says can keep citizens mollified: “From the government’s perspective, it’s far better to keep young Russians away from politics altogether, having them consume funny videos on Russia’s own version of YouTube, RuTube. … Could it be that the vast online resovoirs of cheap entertainment are dampening the enthusiasm that the Russian youth might have for politics, thus preventing their radicalization?” Hassanpour would suggest yes. He, like Morozov, is intrigued by research that suggests East Germans who had access to West German entertainment during the Cold War felt less anti-Communist sentiment. Bread and circuses, indeed.

Read more on the New York Times.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They’re just not ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 2:11 PM Spare the Rod What Charles Barkley gets wrong about corporal punishment and black culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.