Digital activism confronts authoritarian adaptation


Protests in Lebanon, Algeria, and Sudan, the substantial boycott of Iran’s recent presidential “election”, new forms of activism, and multiple rounds of the Arab Barometer, confirm that people in the Middle East still aspire for the same basic political ideals that drove the Arab uprisings:  dignity, voice, accountability, and self-determination, Stanford University’s Larry Diamond and Eileen Donahoe observe.

Just as authoritarian powers and amoral corporations have aided Middle Eastern states in their ambitions to extend control, there remains considerable scope for the world’s democracies to help tip the balance toward freedom and accountability through financial and technical assistance and diplomatic support for the region’s creative, courageous, and tenacious netizens. They are not going away, they write in Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East,* a joint report from the Project on Middle East Political Science, Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and its Global Digital Policy Incubator.  

As the illiberal use of technologies threatens human rights worldwide, MIGS is organizing a speaker series on digital authoritarianism. The fifth event in a special series (above) will focus on Russia and Iran’s Digital Authoritarian Playbook, including internet control and foreign influence operations. Speakers – Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Senior Fellow and director of the Transatlantic Security Program, Center for a New American Security – Amin Sabeti, Executive Director of Digital Impact Lab, Founder of CERTFA – Alina Polyakova, CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis The discussion will be streamed live on YouTube and Facebook. A link will be sent out ahead of the event. November 18, 2021. 11 am. Full details here.

The latest issue of Digital Directions offers insights on the evolving relationships among digital technologies, information integrity, and democracy from the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy:

  • Influence campaigns linked to authoritarian state actors take aim at critics abroad.
  • A Facebook announcement on facial recognition leaves unanswered questions about its parent company’s metaverse plans.
  • The burgeoning private cyber surveillance industry is drawing more attention from analysts and policy makers.

*Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East, co-edited by Marc Lynch,  also includes the following contributions: Binary Threat: How Governments’ Cyber Laws and Practice Undermine Human Rights in the MENA Region – Ahmed Shaheed and Benjamin Greenacre; The Implementation of Digital Surveillance Infrastructures in the Gulf – James Shires; The Web (In)Security of MENA Civil Society and Media – Alexei Abrahams; Beyond Liberation Technology? The Recent Uses of Social Media by Pro-Democracy Activists – Joshua Tucker; Chinese Digital Authoritarianism and Its Global Impact – Xiao Qiang; Transnational or Cross-Border Digital Repression in the MENA Region – Marwa Fatafta; Social Media Manipulation in the MENA: Inauthenticity, Inequality, and Insecurity – Andrew Leber and Alexei Abrahams; Tracking Adversaries and First Responding to Disinfo Ops: The Evolution of Deception and Manipulation Tactics on Gulf Twitter – Marc Owen Jones; Follow the Money for Better Digital Rights in the Arab Region – Afef Abroughi and Mohamad Najem; Digital Orientalism: #SaveSheikhJarrah and Arabic Content Moderation – Mahsa Alimardani and Mona Elswah; Official Foreign Influence Operations: International Broadcasters in the Arab Online – Alexandra A. Siegel; Russian Digital Influence Operations in Turkey 2015-2020 – Akin Unver and Ahmet Kurnaz; Middle East Influence Operations: Observations Across Social Media Takedowns – M.A., Renée DiResta, Josh A. Goldstein, and Shelby Grossman; Changing Sources: Social Media Activity During Civil War – Anita Gohdes and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld. DOWNLOAD FULL PDF HERE

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