The internet is meant to help activists, enable democratic protest and weaken the grip of authoritarian regimes. But it doesn’t—in fact, the web is a boon for bulliesby Evgeny Morozov / November 18, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
My homeland of Belarus is an unlikely place for an internet revolution. The country, controlled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, was once described by Condoleezza Rice as “the last outpost of tyranny in Europe.”
Its last presidential election in March 2006 was followed by a short-lived and unsuccessful revolution. The initial protests were brutally suppressed. But where public rallies couldn’t succeed, protesters turned to more creative forms of insurgency: flash mobs. In a flash mob, social media or email is used to assemble a group of people in a public place, who then perform together a brief, often surreal action. Some young Belarusians used the blogging service LiveJournal to organise a series of events in Minsk with subtle anti-government messages. In a typical flash mob, the youngsters smiled, read newspapers or ate ice-cream. There was nothing openly political but the subtext was: “It’s better to lick ice-cream than the president’s ass!” The security services made many arrests, but their actions were captured in photos that were posted on LiveJournal and on photo-sharing websites like Flickr. Western bloggers and then traditional media picked up the news, drawing attention to the harsh crackdown.