One of the most powerful tools a despotic or totalitarian government can employ to maintain control over it’s subjects is the denial of access to information. This is often done by state-run censorship, propaganda techniques such as card-stacking and lying, and monopolizing media by the government. In the case of Venezuela, for example, 6 of the 7 major media channels are controlled by the government, running only state-run (Chavista’s) accounts of events and political debates. Before his death in 2013, Hugo Chavez would spend hours daily broadcasting his show simultaneously on these channels.
However, the general economic conditions being what they are in Venezuela, the government is becoming less and less convincing as to the validity of the “Chavista revolution”. As such, many of the politically charged citizens rely more and more on the internet (which is for the most part considered uncensored) and social media platforms such as Youtube and Facebook for information-sharing of events and political dialogue. I believe this particular arena of information is the most important function social media can provide in undermining totalitarian governments.
As to the question of information overload – as various different accounts can contradict each other and reduce the integrity of any given viewpoint – there is the idea that information sources cancel each other out. However, this makes the assumption that the audience is passive and unable to think critically. This is erroneous in my opinion. Manuel Castells says that, “Neither the Internet, nor any other technology for that matter, can be a source of social causation. Social movements arise from the contradictions and conflicts of specific societies, and they express people’s revolts and projects resulting from their multidimensional experience. “(p. 229) That being said, I assume that most people are able to actively make choices about what the truth is based on commonalities among their social group. For me, this is what is metaphorically referred to as recognizing the good tree by the fruit it bears. For all the propagandizing and finger-pointing a totalitarian regime puts out, ultimately the audience judges its validity by the results around them.
In the end, although a social revolution may be inevitable in some totalitarian regimes regardless of the effectiveness of social media, it seems clear that social media and ICTs are creating a global community which, as the gap between the rich and the poor widens, could be on the verge of a global social movement that no government could ignore. This is the strongest case for social media’s effectiveness in undermining totalitarian governments.
Other works cited:
Castells, M. (2012). Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the Internet Age. Malden, MA: Polity Press.