I’ll be giving a talk at Stanford’s Liberation Technology Center in January.
Not Free to Be You and Me: Equivocation and Internet Freedom in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan has a unique approach to Internet regulation that represents a ‘middle path’ between open access and censorship. Because the Internet is both unpredictable and a prime venue of unsanctioned content, it threatens what the Azerbaijani government values most: power through consistency, consistency through power.
There are three generations of Internet control that a government can use. The first generation is widespread filtering and direct censorship. Second generation controls manipulate regulations on acceptable content and change the “use of defamation, slander, and ‘veracity’ laws, to deter bloggers and independent media from posting material critical of the government or specific government officials, however benignly (including humor)”. The third generation competes with Internet freedom “through effective counter information campaigns that overwhelm, discredit or demoralize opponents”.
While Azerbaijan does little first generation control (although it has sporadically filtered opposition news sources, especially before elections), it instead discourages technology use in three ways: media framing (third generation), monitoring (third generation) and arrests (second and third generation). Together these have created psychological barriers that impacts Azerbaijani technology use.
Despite this, the Azerbaijani government repeatedly claims that “there is Internet freedom in Azerbaijan.” By electing to define Internet freedom in the strictest sense of the word, the government uses a semantic shift to deflect criticism.
A mixed-methods nationally representative study of Azerbaijani Internet use will demonstrate the detrimental effect Azerbaijani government efforts to dissuade Internet use has on Internet use and free expression.