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Home > Focus > The Arduous Road to Revolution. Resisting Authoritarian Regimes in The Digital Communication Age.

The Arduous Road to Revolution. Resisting Authoritarian Regimes in The Digital Communication Age.

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 1 September 2022

The Arduous Road to Revolution. Resisting Authoritarian Regimes in The Digital Communication Age [2] is the latest book from Gabriele Giacomini [3] (Mimesis International, 2022). As the title suggests, Giacomini not only offers an analysis of historical events (predominantly based on revolutions against regimes in Myanmar, Ukraine, Iran, Egypt, Hong Kong and Belarus), but goes on to raise a series of questions about which skills, rules and institutions might be useful to a population that finds its freedom under pressure, and to offer several suggestions.

In his introduction, the author describes how early 21st century theories about internet development tended to see benefits in bottom-up citizen participation in democratic processes and the resulting empowerment of individuals as an almost natural outcome. This rather optimistic view however seemed to be constructed within a liberal democratic context and framework, overlooking questions of how internet and digital technology might become a player within an illiberal or authoritarian context, and its nature as a double-edged sword.

Giacomini's contextualization of John Locke's right to rebellion and 'appeal to heaven' in chapters 2 and 3 opens a discussion into fundamental human rights and a population's right to rebel if these are not respected, based on the idea that governance is carried out in agreement with the people and therefore a form of contract. Giacomini walks the reader through a brief history of such codified agreements before landing in modernity and the United Nations approved Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concluding with a section describing the process of the progression from anger to system change and elements required for such attempts.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to the role of digital media in authoritarian restorations under the title The Decline of Revolutions, and offers descriptions of ICT use in the uprisings named above. Each example (or pair of examples) grows out of different contexts and leads to strategic and technological innovations: the Ukraine experience led to authoritarian regimes realizing the importance of controlling digital media; the Iranian experience to the adoption of technological policies to counteract rebellion, a development also visible in Egypt and the revolutions that followed. Hong Kong and Belarus are viewed as advanced digital societies and the analysis brings in the technological development of exchanging messages while offline (via Bluetooth) and the doxing approach adopted (first) by protesters and described as a form of revolutionary innovation, leading however to respondent technology-enhanced government repression.

The section concludes with a discussion of the spiral of digital sophistication (the cat and mouse game developed through the chapter), the author making a case for regulatory prevention. The main challenge is seen as the ability to identify a means to counter authoritarian drifts in digital societies: to identify control mechanisms, counterweights, and to allow citizens to act before the spiral (described above) starts.

The final full-length chapter (before a short concluding remarks section) is dedicated to the author's conceptualization of Liberal Innovation and includes some tentative suggestions of how to counter authoritarian drifts in digital societies. Liberal innovation is described as a political architecture that can foster the promotion of the emancipatory elements of digital media, requiring a modern up-to-date human rights system capable of protecting freedom in handling the cognitive elements conveyed by technologies: words, symbols, images, video, data and news.

A thorough description follows of what this might actually mean, rights to freedom, access, anonymity and to be forgotten just a few of those discussed both in terms of application and reinterpretation. The author also makes the point that being free from oppression is not the same as being free to monitor, criticize and denounce, debate and gather in groups.

The author moves on to discuss assistance, intervention and regulation on an international and national level, proposing international digital intervention in several forms (proxy hosting for dissidents for example) and the separation of digital power and strengthening of pluralism at national level.

A section dedicated to the individual level focuses on digital literacy as a tool for resistance, including how knowledge of anonymous browsing techniques, trojan avoidance, encryption techniques and even password choice can all play a part in enabling the user to inhibit the influence of power. The concluding remarks summarize the content of the book.

This is an easy to read, thought provoking, well researched and informative book that weaves an argument within a grey area sitting between the virtual and physical world. It is not only about digital communication, but also about power and democracy, responsibility, innovation and politics.

The Arduous Road to Revolution. Resisting Authoritarian Regimes in the Digital Communication Age [4] by Gabriele Giacomini is published by Mimesis International and costs €11 in paperback, and even less as an e-book.

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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://mimesisinternational.com/the-arduous-road-to-revolution-resisting-authoritarian-regimes-in-the-digital-communication-age/
  3. 3] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/tags/le%20interviste%20di%20Giacomini
  4. 4] https://mimesisinternational.com/the-arduous-road-to-revolution-resisting-authoritarian-regimes-in-the-digital-communication-age/
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The Arduous Road to Revolution. Resisting Authoritarian Regimes in The Digital Communication Age.
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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