restricted access Limits on the Democratizing Influence of the Internet: Lessons from Post-Soviet States

Recent research on democratization has examined the relationship between exposure to information communication technology (ICT) and democratization. Supporters of the positive influence of ICT believe that it can further democratization by providing an alternative source of information and by helping activists organize against an authoritarian regime. However, cases where authoritarian governments have prevented successful democratic transition despite the use of ICT by the opposition challenge claims ICT promotes democracy. What is especially problematic for proponents of the democratizing influence of ICT are cases where a relatively unrestricted ICT coexists with an authoritarian regime. In other words, even when governments allow a “free” internet, ICT still has a minimal effect. Why? One, ICT does not always succeed in organizing protests against the regime because of the high level of coercive capacity and/or elite cohesion of the authoritarian regime, enabling leaders to resist pressure to democratize. Second, ICT will only have a limited impact if the local opposition forces are weak. Third, even if ICT helps facilitate mass mobilization, the resulting activities are often insufficient to bring about full democratization because of structural and institutional barriers to democratization. In this article, I test these hypotheses by explaining the cases of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, both countries with authoritarian governments and relatively free access to ICT.