Digital Knives Are Still Knives

The Affordances of Social Media for a Repressed Opposition against an Entrenched Authoritarian Regime in Azerbaijan

Authored by: Katy E. Pearce , Farid Guliyev

The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  December  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138860766
eBook ISBN: 9781315716299
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506560


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Twenty-first century authoritarian regimes manage and deter dissent in less overt forceful ways than in the past, instead using more creative methods for repression of those that oppose them. Some argue that information and communication technologies can provide new opportunities for oppositionists to overcome barriers. This case study of authoritarian Azerbaijan will look at the challenges that regime critics face and how technology and social media can be leveraged to overcome these challenges, especially due to reduced costs of content creation and distribution as well as organising without co-location. We identity six ways that the Azerbaijani opposition is repressed: (1) The opposition cannot be elected or engage with the formal political process; (2) it cannot communicate with citizens because of strict media control; (3) it cannot freely assemble or rent offices; (4) individuals face tremendous harassment; (5) it has internal capacity challenges; and (6), it lacks credibility with the general population. We then address affordances of technology and social media for each of these challenges. Despite the affordances of technology, we find that in Azerbaijan the challenges faced by the opposition remain (and may even be amplified) in the era of social media. Social media are not empowering oppositionists because the increased visibility and surveillance of opinions shared on social media silences rather than empowers, online activities are swiftly and severely punished, and there is greater competition amongst opposition personalities due to social media creating a new space for opposition outside of the traditional parties.

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