May 17, 2012 10:10AM

Does Internet Activism Work?

In the struggle between liberty and power, technologies are rarely neutral. So where does the Internet fall?

On the hopeful side, there’s the defeat of SOPA, the Arab Spring, and the ongoing struggle for liberalization in China, to name just three.

But we’ve also seen serious threats to privacy and civil liberties at home, Internet surveillance used to hunt down dissidents abroad, and China’s surprisingly effective Internet filtering.

This month at Cato Unbound, Berin Szoka of the think tank Tech Freedom takes a broadly optimistic approach. Jason Benlevi, the author of the book Too Much Magic, suggests that social media may be effective when they give corporations consumer feedback, but they don’t do as well against governments. Rebecca MacKinnon, the author of Consent of the Networked, urges us to focus on the details of specific countries and cultures; for her, facts on the ground can make or break Internet activism. And public choice scholar and law professor John O. McGinnis zooms out to the larger picture: The Internet is changing how we conduct public policy debates, he argues. As fact‐​checking and crowdsourcing get easier, our political culture will tend to grow more empirical and less ideological.

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