An Overlooked Dimension of Internet and Democracy?

When we compare cases where the Internet has played a significant role in democratic struggles (such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine) and the case of Burma where the use of Internet for internal political mobilization is severely limited, we may be inclined to conclude that the Internet in Burma has largely been unsuccessful to bring about significant change towards democracy. While this observation may largely be correct, this conclusion has the danger of overlooking one fundamental aspect of the fight towards democracy – one of holding governments accountable, no matter what kind of a government it is, democratic or autocratic.

If we compare the crackdown of the Burmese military government on general citizens in 1988 with that of 2007, we see that both have been aimed towards quenching a nation-wide protest that was going out of control. However, one major difference that we see between 1988 and 2007 is the the extent of brutality in resisting the protesters and the number of deaths – in 1988, no less than 3,000 people were killed in a few days but in 2007, the official number of death is 13 while the UN Human Rights Council claims the number to be around 100. Largely due to the Internet, the entire world could see what was going on inside Burma from their own living room TVs. The national protest quickly took the form of a global protest – this was a new reality that the repressive military government woke up to. It was a reality that needed cautious strategies – it needed walking a thin line between effective handling of the protest and maintaining an image of fairness to the outside world.

The upshot of this is that the Internet in Burma played a significant role in keeping the Burmese government accountable for its actions, or rather its inactions. While this is not as glorious an impact as a regime change, it is still an important step towards democracy that should not be overlooked.

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One Response to “An Overlooked Dimension of Internet and Democracy?”

  1. Mary Says:

    Good point