The internet has revolutionized the delivery of information and the networking of citizens worldwide, but has it delivered democracy to new places? This course dissects and analyzes the role of the internet in regime resilience and change in a global perspective. This course demonstrates how the huge range of data and analytical tools available via the online sphere can lead to new understanding of both human and regime behavior. In particular, the course will focus on the tension between the internet as a tool for state power or as a liberating technology for citizens. Case studies will include the Obama election of 2008, the Arab Spring, global movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the rising online revolution in Russia, as well as the potential of the online sphere to craft democratic change in countries such as Iran and Iraq. At issue is whether information and communication technology will ultimately become a boon for democracy or a tool for repression.Guest speakers could include internet activists, analysts, and technology providers.

Assignments include:

• Students are expected to complete all readings, attend class, and contribute to the class discussion. The readings capitalize on the explosion in interest and writing on the issue in both the academic and policy sphere and students will be analyzing the most recent work in the field. Students will be assessed via four central components: 1) a description and test of an open-source online analytical tool such as IssueCrawler or Google Insights for Search; 2) a 10-page research paper that explores the academic literature on internet mobilization and repression; 3) a group project to analyze an online social movement or significant event; and 4) a 10-page policy paper on internet governance and/or online citizen engagement.

• This course will teach students to:

  • Critically evaluate the control systems that regulate political activism on the Internet;
  • Assess the implications for global civil society of the ‘digital divide’;
  • Assess the implications for political elites of increasing internet consumption in both democratic and authoritarian nation-states;
  • Evaluate the significance of the internet for a series of established and alternative political actors including media outlets, social movements, political parties, and non-governmental organizations;
  • Assess whether information and communication technologies can generate social capital and foster political participation;
  • Understand and be able to deploy online data analysis tools in new and creative ways that will allow students to make significant contributions to government, media outlets, NGOs, political campaigns, research projects, and a range of other ways in their future careers.

Readings include:

Deibert, Ronald, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan L. Zittrain. 2010. Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Howard, Philip K. 2010. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam. New York: Oxford University Press

MacKinnon, Rebecca. 2012. Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom. New York: Basic Books.

Morozov, Evgeni. 2011. Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: PublicAffairs.

Shirky, Clay. 2009. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin Books.