Collaboration Bad for Police States

Police states fear gatherings of large numbers of people, because they can unpredictably turn into a mob demanding the overthrow of an unpopular government. Internet-based collaboration will quickly make it very difficult to stop large, spontaneous gatherings.

Eritrea illustrates. The government is very unpopular with its people. The government refuses to hold elections, because it knows it will be voted out, and because it fears that once it’s out, the established government will likewise refuse to relinquish power at the hustings. This is a common situation throughout the world, especially in Africa.

In Eritrea, people are very religious, and the majority are Christian. Religious groups are the main nongovernmental organizations that can pull together a big crowd. So churches are closely monitored and controlled. Only three Christian groups are allowed: Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the Lutheran Church. These groups must follow the government’s rules and avoid meddling in politics. All other churches are illegal. Errant pastors who start gathering large crowds are quickly put in (appalling) prisons, or are thrown out of the country.

The Internet will grow in police states; competitive international pressures make governments unable to stop it. And as its use grows, collaborative technologies such as email, instant messaging, and teamspaces will let groups of people quickly organize meetings at very short notice. The London WTO riot in 1999 and flash mobs are examples. SMS text messaging also plays a big part.

Such gatherings will make life extremely difficult for dictatorships. What will they do when half of the population spontaneously gets together to demand the downfall of the government? There will be too many people involved, and doing nasty things to a few leaders won’t stop the gatherings from occurring. Collaborative technology is bad news for police states.

David Ferris

One Comment

  1. Posted July 1, 2006 at 10:36 PM | Permalink

    The trackback link seems to be broken. I tried to use it on my blog (www.nphd.org/blog), but it didn’t work. But, using the url thato ne gets from this page does work.

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