Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky go toe-to-toe. Shirky:
I'll make an argument for why [the use of technology in Iran] is going to matter, which relates to the Iranian governments announced plan to ban Google's mail service and replace it with a "national email service." I don't believe that the Iranian government will be able to run a good replacement for Gmail, not because of the censorship, but because I don't think they have talented enough system administrators. I don't think they can keep the technology up. If they suddenly become tech support for their own country, that actually shifts the economy to a less productive mode.
Now, you can afford to give up half a percent a year GDP from your market economy if oil goes above $100 a barrel, but if oil stays at $70 and below, they can't afford to shave off that kind of growth. This is the idea of Iran becoming "temporary Burma" that you and I have been arguing about. I think Twitter, Facebook, et cetera, has pushed Iran into a serious compromise where they're willing to weaken their own communications infrastructure, aka, shave tenths of a percentage point off GDP, to try to control the insurrection. That's understandable from their point of view, but still seems to me like a dangerous move in the longer term.
I lived in Belarus and saw enough crazy but completely meaningless threats and announcements by the state; usually they went nowhere they were meant as exercises in propaganda. If you look at China or Russia, much of their publicity is now run by Western PR firms who know how Western media works and know how to make it produce the coveted coverage. Why do we worry about American firms selling China technology that can then be used for censorship purposes rather than about say the PR and lobbying firms who cater to the publicity needs of authoritarian governments? I guess what I am trying to say is that these governments' media strategies are much more sophisticated and media-conscious than we take them to be. When we in the West are trying to second-guess what the Iranians actually meant, it does remind me of Kremlinology.
The whole exchange is well worth your time.
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