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Reflections on the Pandemic Effect on Internet Use and Democracy

Last year, around the same time, the release on the same day of two flagship reports on 'the Internet' had prompted me to write an article on CircleID entitled 'Connecting the Next 46 Percent: Time to Pick the Good From the Bad and the Ugly'. I was then prudently asking whether 'the more we connect the world, the less free it becomes?'.

Who would have known that a pandemic would erupt a few months later, unveiling different perspectives in assessing that very same question?

Sadly, even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, democracy and democratization were on the decline worldwide, as evidenced by data from Freedom House and V-Dem. While the pandemic has certainly created more demand for Connectivity, it is unlikely to alleviate calls for more democratic governance.

The conventional wisdom of the late 90s that the Internet is inherent of a democratic nature is nowadays less and less obscuring the net impact of Internet Use on democracy, and this, in almost all countries across the democracy and development continuum. Even the US will likely rate lower this year, affected by the toxic polarization effect of Social Media (concept captured by V-Dem indices).

SMART or not, regulation seems unavoidable, but what might that look like?

Experts and researchers are exploring concrete options.

By Kitaw Yayehyirad Kitaw – Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW (Yayeh KITAW) works in Geneva for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). He holds a MBA in Management of Technology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and is currently a part time PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Maastricht – UNU-MERIT. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the official position of ITU and the academic institutions he is affiliated with. Visit Page

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