Why is the Struggle for Democracy So Hard?

Why is the Struggle for Democracy So Hard?
Extremely low-res image from yours truly in 2011 at a 60,000-person protest in Dakar, Senegal for the World Social Forum.

RFC 9505: Newly minted RFC 9505 is an informational document from the Internet Research Task Force that "describes technical mechanisms employed in network censorship that regimes around the world use for blocking or impairing Internet traffic." The best part about this project that extended over nine years is that it manages to categorize network-level censorship in a fairly static manner, while also citing real world examples from authoritarian regimes of how the network architecture itself can be used against people and free information on the internet. Spoiler: It is deeply technical!

Splintercon is next week in Montreal. The agenda is now online but attendance is in-person only. Register!

Quick updates:

  • How the Internet Really Works is in its third reprint! Print versions are available in five languages: English, Ukrainian, French, German and Polish.
  • The essays on internet infrastructure in Eaten by the Internet really have something for everyone, like Michael Veale's cold open: "Online advertising has long been a privacy shitshow." 😙👌
  • Closing out an excellent podcast episode on AI Catherine Yeh remind us, "These technologies are very much social products. It's critically important that we engage with these technologies sociologically and critically."
  • You can now find the long-form essays that have appeared in the newsletter at their own links:
AI has 99 problems and none are technical
It’s critical to confront the reality that AI is just modern data science with one major promise (or peril): It’s our only hope of making sense of the vast quantities of unstructured data produced by ubiquitous sensors and surveillance. It is this underlying motivation that needs our attention.
10 ways the internet makes things worse for human rights
The internet has facilitated a new era of challenges and threats to human rights. While it has enabled e-commerce, it has exacerbated inequality.

Mass protest and people power in the digital age: In a book review of Vincent Bevins’ book “If We Burn,” David Wallace-Wells asks “Has the Age of Mass Protest Actually Achieved Anything?” While it’s true that outrage directed at inequality and globalization fomented mass mobilization, it would have been more interesting for Wallace-Wells to inspect today’s organized and strategic social movements that he incorrectly cites as examples of protest. Social movements go beyond protest to enact broad strategies for change, only some of which are to "demonstrate" support in numbers. 

Wallace-Wells, and Bevins, are outright mistaken about the “disorienting regularity” of mass protest today. Freedom House’s recent report has global freedom in decline for the 17th year in a row, citing online repression and invasive monitoring technologies resulting in “a pervasive sense of fear among civic activists, members of marginalized communities, and average citizens”. Amnesty International similarly reports, “Protesters across the globe are facing a potent mix of pushbacks, with a growing number of laws and other measures to restrict the right to protest; the misuse of force, the expansion of unlawful mass and targeted surveillance; internet shutdowns and online censorship; and abuse and stigmatization.”

These facts should lead one to wonder, if protest is so ineffective then why are autocratic and democratic governments alike repressing civic action to this staggering degree? Perhaps we should instead turn our veiled accusations toward the repressive and outright unaccountable nations and institutions that social movements seek to change and ask “Why is the Struggle for Democracy So Hard?”

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