The internet is an intuitive boon for democracy, according to Elizabeth Stoycheff, Assistant professor at Wayne State University, and Erik C. Nisbet, Associate professor at Ohio State University. It provides citizens around the world with greater freedom of expression, opportunities for civil society, education, and political participation. And previous research, including our own, has been optimistic about the internet’s democratic potential, they write for Quartz:
However, this optimism is based on the assumption that citizens who gain internet access use it to expose themselves to new information, engage in political discussions, join social media groups that advocate for worthy causes, and read news stories that change their outlook on the world.
But a recent study suggests that, when used differently, the internet can actually harm democratization efforts, they contend:
The study was situated in two non-democracies, Russia and Ukraine. The two share a common history, geography, and culture. Both rank well above the global average of 48% of internet penetration. More than 70% of Russians and 60% of Ukrainians reportedly use the internet.
The results of our study revealed the internet’s double-edged sword. Citizens who used the internet for news and political information were more likely to express greater criticism about their country’s autocratic political institutions and leaders. As a consequence, they were more likely to demand greater democratic reforms.