Arguably if you are an authoritarian leader who is threatened to be deposed, you view social media that your opponents use to organize protests as a threat. On the other hand, if your supporters can use it to organize counter-protests, then you might see it as an opportunity — perhaps this explains why Egyptians saw their Internet and cell phone services cut off and then turned back on — or maybe it was outside political pressure that got things turned back on, but I doubt it.
Politics and social media have become so intertwined that separation is impossible, for either side, and the political process will never be the same. But old political orders are most threatened. WikiLeaks has bypassed traditional diplomacy and may have been the trigger for the changes we are witnessing in the Middle East. And protesters are organizing spontaneously with Twitter and SMS. In the U.S., traditional political parties have suffered while political movements like moveon.org and the tea parties are ascendant, and money is walking away from the parties and toward these new movements. In authoritarian regimes, the political party and the government are a single entity, and if the political party suffers, then so does the government, even more so. Still, authoritarian regimes are becoming as dependent on social media as their opponents (13,110 people “like” Vladimir Putin on Facebook — though he has inspired many spoof accounts), but they have more to fear from the change that the incorporation of social media into the culture brings.
All this raises critical questions — can governments really engage citizens effectively with social media, or are social media a way for citizens to bypass the traditional political process and thereby government? If traditional governmental institutions for societal discourse are bypassed, what results — e-democracy or e-anarchy?
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