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

I have just read The Arduous Road to Revolution. Resisting Authoritarian Regimes in The Digital Communication Age, the latest book from Gabriele Giacomini. The book  offers an analysis of the influence of ICT use during revolutions (based on revolutions against regimes in Myanmar, Ukraine, Iran, Egypt, Hong Kong and Belarus), and 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 the early 21st century academic theorists  about internet development believed that it would bring improvement for democratic processes, offering benefits for bottom-up citizen participation in democratic processes and the resulting empowerment of the population. This view was constructed within a liberal democratic context and framework though, and overlooked questions of how internet and digital technology might become a player within an authoritarian context, which turns out to be quite different.

The author describes the history of the codification of human rights and the philosophy behind the idea that a population has a right to overthrow a government that doesn’t uphold them, before discussing some of the elements that have to be in place for anger to tip over into revolution.

He then goes on to describe 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 both by the population and the resisting government.

Each example has interesting specifics: 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 (described as forms of revolutionary innovation) and the respondent technology-enhanced government repression.

This type of conflict leads to a spiral of digital sophistication (my ICT use is more efficient and bigger and better than yours), and the author makes a case for regulatory prevention, the challenge being to identify the conditions 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 book comes to a climax with ideas of how to counter authoritarian drifts in digital societies. What is needed (according to Giacomini) is 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.

Should the international community intervene? Should there be regulation? How can we work towards the separation of digital power and strengthening of pluralism at national level. Digital literacy is also a tool for resistance, knowledge of anonymous browsing techniques, avoiding trojans, encryption and even password choice all playing a part in enabling the user to inhibit the influence of power.

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 by Gabriele Giacomini is published by Mimesis International and costs €11.

Computing Within Limits


I have just attended LIMITS 22, the eight annual workshop on computing within limits.

As the name suggests, the workshop addresses the role of computing in human societies affected by real-world limits, for example limits of extractive logics, limits to a biosphere’s ability to recover, limits to our knowledge, or limits to technological “solutions”.

Very much tied to the interests of the TechnologyBloggers website, this collection of researchers and practitioners aim to reshape the computing research agenda, grounded by an awareness that contemporary computing research is intertwined with ecological limits in general and climate- and climate justice-related limits in particular.

This was a virtual distributed workshop, with many participants joining hubs so that they could avoid travel but still attend a social event. I touched upon this as a model in my post about conferencing a few weeks ago.

I attended one of such hubs in Rotterdam (Netherlands), held at Varia, a space for developing collective approaches to everyday technology. There were a dozen people there, computer programmers, university lecturers and students and the likes, which made for interesting discussion during the break-out sessions and a very nice social mix.

I won’t go into the individual presentations too much, but would like to highlight a few of the questions addressed and point readers towards some resources.

What is the carbon footprint of streaming media?

Researchers estimate that streaming media accounts for about 1% of global carbon emissions. These emissions are created throughout the chain, with only a small percentage visible to users (the electricity that appears on their household bills), the vast majority hidden as it is produced during data storage, cooling, delivery, maintaining back-up systems and during a miriad of other processes (not to mention construction, mining of raw materials, etc).

This website offers lots of information, beginning with the startling revelation that ICT in general is estimated to use about 7% of all electricity used, so may contribute (depending how the electricity is produced) to up to almost 4% of global greenhouse gasses.

So the actual carbon footprint is very difficult to measure, with a range offered for watching a streamed film as equivalent to burning between 1.2 and 164 kilos of coal (depending on your calculations and not the film).

The large data centres providers often claim that they use clean energy for their centres, but this was also questioned as their mass use of this energy has been shown to monopolize access, at very least having an enormous effect on the local networks and sometimes resulting in others having to use fossil fonts,. Their green claims were described as cherry-picked.

Digital platforms

Well we all love a digital platform don’t we? Facilitating car sharing, what could be better than that? Well even here a critical perspective appears, as we have to add ICT emissions to real emissions if calculating the possible environmental implications. And not only that! For example, using one car instead of two halves the emissions for analytical purposes, but on top of this we should add the ICT emissions (which as we know are difficult to work out). But we can come up with an estimate. Then behavioural change might also come into play. People might drive further because they are sharing, some will share a car and leave the bike at home or not take the usual train. It all becomes rather murky.

Other discussions

Other questions arose: what are the implications of framing the discussion in terms of limits, rather than abundance? Could such a reframing bring in an ethics of care? Can we discuss the relationship between humans and nature and its ties to capitalism? What role can religion take? How important are imaginaries of the (technological) future? Does the public have the information required to understand the environmental implications of their choices?

As you can see, it was very stimulating.

Check out this website for a perspective.

And the Chaos Computer Club for another.

The papers are all available here so fill your boots.

Ecosia 🌍

What is Ecosia?

Simply put, Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees with its profits.

💻📱 👉 💷💲 👉 🌱🌳

Which Search Engine Does Ecosia Use?

Ecosia is an organisation and search engine in its own right, but its results are powered by Microsoft Bing. Bing itself is carbon neutral and the whole of Microsoft are looking to go green by committing to be carbon negative by 2030.

How Green is Ecosia?

Ecosia recognise the impact the internet has on the environment of our planet. Ecosia runs on renewable energy, meaning your searches aren’t negatively impacting the planet.

“If the internet were a country it would rank #3 in the world in terms of electricity consumption” – Ecosia, 2018

In fact, searching with Ecosia is actually positively impacting the planet, with each search removing CO2 from the atmosphere. How? Because they plant trees with their profits.

As mentioned above, Bing (which powers Ecosia) is carbon neutral, so searching using Ecosia is a win-win from the perspective of your carbon footprint 👣

How Does Ecosia Make Money?

Like Google, Ecosia don’t make money from search results, they make their revenue from the ads that sit alongside the results.

Every time you click on an advert on Ecosia, you contribute to their revenue, which ultimately leads to trees being planted somewhere around the world

Ecosia tree tracker

They have a helpful counter on their search results to show you how many trees you’ve personally contributed towards.

So far they have planted over 100 million trees worldwide, supporting projects in 15 countries.

Why am I Promoting Ecosia?

The reason I wrote this article is because I think Ecosia awesome. They’re an organisation trying really hard to do the right thing and they’re clearly having an impact.

Congrats Ecosia on your success and thank you for what you’re doing for the world 🙏🎉🎊 🌍 give it a go 😊