In This Review

Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule
Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule
By Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor C. Boas
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003, 160 pp.

It is said that the Internet promotes democracy in authoritarian states. This book reports more mixed findings.

The Internet can indeed frustrate state rule, but authoritarian regimes can also control virtual content to promote state-defined interests. Based on case studies, this book explores the Internet's impact on civil society, economic openness, and ties among transnational human rights and democracy groups. China is a particularly illuminating example. Committed to economic liberalization, Beijing has promoted the Internet while attempting to control its political impact by filtering and monitoring content and encouraging self-censorship. In some instances, the regime sees the Internet as a tool to fight corruption and promote local reform and development of poor areas. In contrast, Cuba has rejected this approach in favor of strengthening government control. Other authoritarian states have looked to Singapore as they try to balance a corruption-free and technology-friendly society with political and social controls. The authors do not offer an argument about the sources of change in authoritarian regimes, but their cases suggest that the Internet's role will be indirect and long term.