The Rise and Fall of Social Media Influence Against Totalitarian Regimes

  • Social media has been one of the main tools opposition has been using around the globe to organize and fight for freedom.
  • Governments learned how to use social media for their advantage.
  • The new hope is Elon Musk's Starlink, which will start offering internet service in 2020.

Social media has become part of our daily lives, from reading breaking news, to communication for business and personal purposes. It is an important tool for many in their daily lives, no matter how one uses it. It is also a dangerous tool, where one can have their life ruined. People have lost jobs over their posts, as well as being targeted and bullied on social media platforms. Some take it upon themselves to label other people online with the false narrative of being trolls (even though the profiles are legit!), just to cause turmoil.

The more that people fight for freedom, the more dictators crack down on use of the internet.

Facebook is only 15 years old, yet it has over two billion users worldwide. It is not a safe site as your privacy in violated by the data gathering by Facebook.  Twitter is another popular platform to use. Twitter is banned in China.

However, for citizens in countries with totalitarian regimes, the risk of using social media is loosing their life. Their families can be targeted and also become outcasts.

In the past decade, especially over the past five years, people have started to believed in social media as a modern way to start a revolution. In turn, they hope to bring change and a better life to certain parts of the world. In order to have political regime change, there needs to be a revolution. The unification of the opposition must be based on the goal of regime change. The biggest challenge is getting the opposition to consolidate. Furthermore, a consensus needs to be reached between a myriad of smaller oppositions fractions in order to have a constructive opposition scenario. The Arab Spring became a crucial event for the effective use of social media. The scenario was quick and viral.

A domino effect of viral social media posts started happening in Algeria, Iran, and Hong Kong, leading to organized protests. The unrest swept many nations. Millennials continued their efforts to bring change and democracy to their respective countries. As a result, governments caused internet blackouts to stop protesters organizing via social media and using it to ask the West for help. A prime example was in Syria, where Russia clearly had a hand in shutting down the internet for a few days. Iran also shutdown their internet at one point.

There is always an option for people to use satellite communications, but without the west investing in them, it is not possible for regular opposition to be able to use it themselves.

The more that people fight for freedom, the more dictators crack down on use of the internet. The only success happened in Ukraine with the Orange Revolution. However, now Ukraine is embroiled in a conflict with Russia and lost Crimea via aggressive annexation in 2014.

Social media worked well for opposition groups for awhile, but governments are also finding ways to use it to their advantage. The biggest advantage totalitarian governments have over their opposition is access to resources, stemming from their control of money and military power.

Russia is slowly shutting down social media platforms outside of Russia. Soon, users in Russia will only be able to use government approved apps and sites, designed in Russia. Personal information will be stored and gathered in Russian government databases. It takes away any privacy a human being can have, while using the internet. China already has the “Great Firewall of China,” which is a draconian control of the news Chinese nationals can read or have access to. During the Hong Kong protests, China forced Apple to remove a program, which allowed Chinese protesters to view the location and movements of law enforcement.

Technology continues to evolve but so are the government capabilities to track users.

There are apps and technology used by governments to track their citizens and information about them. In 2011, WikiLeaks released documents called the Spy Files, a comprehensive database of surveillance products and who markets those services to government agencies across the globe. Companies like Hacking Team specialize in advanced spyware, allowing their customers to exercise total control over a target’s device while remaining completely invisible.

France recently announced the start of a program to track the social media of its citizens to oust tax evaders.

This month, the ToTok app was removed from the Google Store, since it is alleged the app is used by the United Arab Emirates government to spy on people.

The technology available today makes it very easy for the government to track mobile devices and the movement of each person. Private companies gather the information and make it available to the government as well.

Overall, it makes it very dangerous for the opposition to use social media and electronic devices to plan an uprising and hope for a revolution.

The future possibility of opposition success using social media could be Elon Musk’s new Starlink satellite system. SpaceX is expected to start offering the internet in the upcoming year. It will have capabilities to offer service globally. This could be a new hope for future protesters to finally gain freedom against totalitarian nations.

Technology continues to evolve but so are the government capabilities to track users.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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