In recent years, we have witnessed the mushrooming of pro- democracy and protest movements not only in the Arab world, but also within Europe and the Americas. Such movements have ranged from popular upheavals, like in Tunisia and Egypt, to the organization of large-scale demonstrations against unpopular policies, as in Spain, Greece and Poland. What connects these different events are not only their democratic aspirations, but also their innovative forms of communication and organization through online means, which are sometimes considered to be outside of the State’s control. At the same time, however, it has become more and more apparent that countries are attempting to increase their understanding of, and control over, their citizens’ actions in the digital sphere. This involves striving to develop surveillance instruments, control mechanisms and processes engineered to dominate the digital public sphere, which necessitates the assistance and support of private actors such as Internet intermediaries. Examples include the growing use of Internet surveillance technology with which online data traffic is analysed, and the extensive monitoring of social networks. Despite increased media attention, academic debate on the ambivalence of these technologies, mechanisms and techniques remains relatively limited, as is discussion of the involvement of corporate actors. The purpose of this edited volume is to reflect on how Internet-related technologies, mechanisms and techniques may be used as a means to enable expression, but also to restrict speech, manipulate public debate and govern global populaces.
This book was published as a special issue of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics.