November 29, 2017  |  Updated February 13, 2019

The Authoritarian Capture of Social Media

By Péter Krekó

The beginning of the twenty-first century was dominated by overwhelming consensus that the internet was an autocrat’s nightmare. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) internet censorship was oft-cited as an example of how badly autocrats feared the internet’s transformative potential as a space for civic organization. The role of social media in the Arab Uprisings seemed to further demonstrate this point. Protests against the increasingly authoritarian Turkish government were also aided by social media, and attempts to shut-off access in Turkey and Russia deepened the impression that autocrats must struggle mightily against social media to maintain power.

As current events demolish that consensus, the bad news seems to be that authoritarian regimes and illiberal movements can exploit the social media environment as adeptly as democratic ones, if not more so. But why?

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