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Home Blog Modern Dictators are getting Stronger because of Technology

Modern Dictators are getting Stronger because of Technology

As technology evolves, ordinary human lives are becoming easier. However, as far as good aspects of technology are concerned, the number of bad aspects is not less and it is affecting our daily life. As technology improves the lives of people, so do the bad people. Technology has made the defense of many countries even more secure, and so is the rule of many countries. Modern Dictators are getting Stronger because of technology. Let’s see how modern science and technology are making the dictators of the present age more terrible and mad.

Among the most known intelligence agencies in history, one of the most elaborate intelligence police was ‘Stasi’ in the East German state. It was notorious for controlling personal surveillance and information flow. In 1989, the company had about one million regular employees, though, according to some data, the number was five million. In addition, there were about two million informants or correspondents for the one million people in East Germany. Its perfect manpower and resources help it to spread within the society.

They monitor East German citizens in virtually every case. Thousands of agents flock to phones, enter political movements, and report on people’s personal and family relationships. Even some officers were employed at the post offices. They would open the exchanges of letters or packets of goods with East German citizens from a non-communist state. They controlled the state through repression. For decades Stasi was known as a role model of an extremely powerful dictatorial regime.

After the war, liberal democracy was conquered. Such police bodies are no longer effective. Global policies changed to form a legitimate governance system. By 2000, new technology had pledged to empower the people of the Internet and mobile phones. As a result, every citizen gets more information than before. At the same time, this technology also helps in communication and forming new communities.

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But the fantasy of this liberal democratic future has proved to be a very simple idea in the aftermath. Instead, with new technology, dictators are able to preserve their power in new ways, much like Stasi’s. With the automatic role of artificial intelligence, rulers are able to easily monitor their opponents. This can be done by practicing lesser than the usual surveillance system. With digital products, dictatorial rulers are able to operate at a wider range than the human-based system.

Not only that, they are able to monitor low-cost equipment. For example, there is no need to buy any software program to monitor short messages, social media posts or their movements sent to people’s phones in a region. When citizens are turned away, their rulers are watching over them, and they change their behavior. As a result, rulers no longer have to physically repress.

However, this worrisome situation has been a long way off. Since 2000, new technologies, including the Internet, social media, and new technologies have spawned positive thoughts. This optimism was broken in the early 2010s. During this time, the world’s longest-ruling dictatorships collapsed in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, the main influencers of which were social media. Then there is the opportunity for open information flow and citizens are enriched with technology.

Arab Springs
One of the important influencers of the Arab Spring was social media. Image: Vox

As a result, it is thought that with the development of technology, dictators will no longer be able to sustain their power. But now it is clear that technology is no longer promoting the language of protest. It does not allow the rulers to take action against repressive policies. For the fear of the people, the dictators have changed themselves. They have adapted to new technology to manage the dictatorship of the modern age.

Currently, the Internet, social media and artificial intelligence are being used in digital dictatorships to sustain dictatorships. China is leading this digital dictatorship. Due to technology, anti-government movements or protests have become a threat to the sustained power of the perpetrators. So dictators are creating digital armor to prevent this. As a result, the digital dictatorship is lasting longer than the usual dictatorial regime.

At the beginning of the millennium, optimists heard that dictatorships would collapse due to improved technology. But the current reality says they can use technology better to strengthen their capabilities.

In the digital age, there has been a change in the way of the dictatorship. Due to technologies like internet and social media, the general public can protest against cruel and oppressive government. Data from the Month Mobilization Project and the Autocratic Regimes show that between 2000-17, sixty percent of dictators encountered anti-government movements at least once, so that there were fifty or more public meetings.

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Many of these movements were able to overthrow dictatorial rulers. During 2000-17, ten of the 44 dictators were ousted due to the people’s movement. 19 others lost power by defeating the election.

Due to the rise of public protest, there has been a significant change in dictatorial politics. Historically, the greatest threat to dictators was the cue or coup of military officers. From 1946 to 2000, 198 dictatorships collapsed. About a third of them were due to military officers’ cue. On the other hand, only 16 percent of the rulers fell due to the agitation. But in the present century, the image has changed.

Between 2001-17, only 9 percent of dictators fell due to military cue. On the other hand, due to the mass movement, the government has more than doubled. Apart from the Arab Spring, the dictatorship of Burkina Faso, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan was abolished due to mass movements. Protests of the people became the biggest challenge of dictators of the 21st century.

However, the threat of rising mass movement could not defeat the dictators of the present. Previously, when they feared a military coup, they took tactical measures to prevent it. These included increasing the remuneration of military officers and frequent transfers of influential military officers, so that they did not have independent fields to build followers.

As movements of the movement increased, dictators focused on minimizing the threat of mass mobilization to maintain their power. According to Freedom House, the limits of political and civil liberties have increased globally since 2000. Most of this happened in autocratic countries. In these countries, dictators impose restrictions on the political and civil liberties of the people. As a result, it is difficult for the people to organize and agitate against the government.

Apart from narrowing the way for civil society to practice thought, autocratic states are learning to suppress dissent through digital products. Although technology currently helps protest, dictators are using the same technology to prevent ‘dangerous’ mass movements.

The Variety of Democracy and Mass Mobilization Project suggests that dictators who apply digital repression are less at risk of experiencing mass uprising than other dictators. It not only reduces the chances of public protests, but also reduces the chances of a prolonged protest movement. As a result, events like the Red Shirt protests in Thailand in 2010 and the anti-Mubarak movement in Egypt in 2011 are less likely to happen. This is evident from the Cambodian example.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power since 1985. His government has used technology to keep power. Under Hun Sen’s rule, the media has been restricted from publishing news about opposition parties. As a result, until the July 2013 elections, the opposition had to rely on the online media or digital fields to motivate the people.

In the election, Hun Sen’s party took refuge in fraud. As a result, thousands of citizens took to the streets for new elections. The government then implements online repression policies to curb people’s protests as well as online. In August 2013, an Internet service provider temporarily blocked Facebook. Authorities in Siem Reap closed more than forty Internet cafes in December. The next year, the government formed a cyber war team.

It is engaged in surveillance on the Internet and taking action when it finds anti-government activities. The following year, the government introduced a new law, which brought widespread control of the telecommunications system. A force was then formed, which had the power to suspend the services of any telecommunications company. In addition, they have the power to expel employees of these companies. Due to these measures, anti-government protests in the country have been greatly reduced. In 2017 there was only one anti-government protest in Cambodia, where the number was 36 in 2014.

The dictators are using technology not only to suppress protests, but also to strengthen their traditional methods of governance. They also use digital repression to oppress and kill opposition people in real life online. As a result, it indicates that the traditional suppression policy of dictators is not being replaced by digital systems. Instead, technology is being strengthened with the help of technology. In this, dictator rulers are able to determine more precisely who to arrest or to question. Properly targeting the opponent does not lead to arbitrary repression. It also reduces the risk of facing protests.

facial recognition technology
Surveillance systems have been further improved with the use of facial recognition technology. Image: Joseph Steinberg

One of the notable additions to the modern dictatorship is the enhanced surveillance system with advanced artificial intelligence technology. High resolution cameras, facial recognition technology, automated writing analysis, Big Data technology are creating new ways to control citizens. With these technologies, the government is monitoring its citizens, taking timely action if they disagree. Sometimes even a protest can take action before it takes place.

The rulers of any country like China could not use artificial intelligence technology extensively for repressive activities. The Communist Party, the only political party in China, has incredible information about every citizen and business organization. The Communist Party is aware of everyone’s income tax return, bank information, shopping list, crime and medical records. The rulers analyze this information with artificial intelligence technology and form a ‘social credit score’.

The social credit system is the process of determining acceptable behavior for Chinese citizens. It controlled Chinese citizens. If a citizen or a business entity is not trusted, the state is deprived of its privileges. Many of them are deprived of the convenience of renting apartments without the deposit, traveling by train or by air. With the advancement of artificial intelligence technology, the process of controlling the people by the rulers will only become more rigorous, which is called ‘social management’.

China is also practicing digital suppression process in real life. In Xinjiang province, the Chinese government has detained more than a million Uighur communities in ‘re-education’ camps, which are held outside the camps in the city. Because cities are surrounded by rich gates of facial recognition software. The software fixes – who can go through the gate, who can not, who has to be detained there.

China has collected a great deal of information about the Uighur community. These include their mobile phone information, genetic information, religious ritual information, etc. By gathering this information, activities that are considered a threat to the security of the state are counteracted.

New technology is also helping China monitor its government officials. The dictators are always afraid of the people inside their party. They are suspected of being a rebel of a military coup or of an influential leader of their own party. With new technology, rulers can monitor the progress of government officials’ activities. Officials were dismissed for defaming the government. China has many restrictions on expressing citizens’ feelings online. However, when social media posts on Weibo with local rulers, it is not censored. Because the government gets an idea about the activities of the local administrators.

China is currently using technology to further refine their censorship process. A large number of images and text analysis is done using artificial intelligence technology. Then they are picked up and blocked by elements that go against the government. Some time ago, during the Hong Kong movement, information was removed from the Internet inside China, against the government almost immediately.

Even if dissent cannot be suppressed with such censorship, citizens’ access to the entire Internet or selected sites is blocked. It does not allow the members of the opposition to communicate, organize, and disseminate their statements. Last November, when the protests spread widely inside Iran, their government shut down the Internet.

China is the driver of the digital repression process, but other countries are not far behind. Many states are following China. Russia, like China, is isolating its Internet from the world. Many countries around the world are becoming interested in the wide range of censorship and automated surveillance. Officials in some of Africa’s dictatorial states have traditionally been training in China to control their online control.

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The use of technology not only empowered the Chinese government to suppress its citizens, but also gave them the opportunity to assist. With technology, China is able to control a wide range of government services. Through the social credit system, they punish the critics of the government and reward loyal or loyalists. Chinese citizens who have good social credit scores can enjoy many additional benefits in the state. These include easy travel abroad, discounts on electricity or water bills, convenience for bus travel, etc. This protected the dictator’s strict control of the rule and the cooperation of the citizens.

The dictators use technology to explain the logic of their governance to the citizens. This creates a positive perception of people in their minds. Posting distracting posts from automated accounts via social media is drawing attention away from critical posts.

Due to sophisticated deepfacing and micro-targeting technology it is difficult to select reliable audio, video or image. As a result, digital fraud is also on the rise. This process is used by dictators to bring the attitude of their citizens to themselves. Through microtargeting, the government can influence certain populations by providing distorted information to them. Many advertisers advertise online to their target buyers. On the other hand, with Deepfac technology, counterpart leaders can be wrongly presented to the public. As a result, confusion and uncertainty can be spread among the public.

Autocrats also use technology to represent themselves as people’s friends. They keep some elements of democratic governance for citizens. One such arrangement is to allow people to participate in public opinion and debate online. Some local Chinese administrators offer citizens the opportunity to provide feedback through social media, through polling and other digital means. This creates a positive perception of the Communist Party for the educated citizens. The message is given to them that the government is also giving importance to their views. Although, in fact, these are works of show-off.

With the adoption of dictatorship technology, it has become a serious threat to democracy. At present, dictators are holding power for more time than before. The average tenure of dictators from 1946 to 2000 was ten years. But after 2000, the rule analysis shows that this is more than double.

The dictatorship is the highest for the dictators who are using technology to suppress dissent. There were 91 dictators who were in power for more than a year between 2000-17. Of them, 37 have fallen dictators. Everyone who has been able to retain power is using technology.

Modern dictators do not need to form huge police forces like the former dictators for the sake of technology. Forming a police force like Stasi in East Germany has long been a matter of course. The rulers need thousands of trusted people to form this force. They have to create through training. It is not possible for most dictators to carry out this massive operation. East Germany had a spy for every 66 citizens.

Compared to other countries, this number is much lower. Of course, North Korea currently has the largest police and intelligence service for its citizens. They have a correspondent for every 40 citizens. On the other hand, in Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, there were 5090 per person. In the digital age, dictators do not need such a large amount of manpower to monitor people.

At present, autocratic countries buy new technology and train a small group of government officials. They also seek help from successful autocratic countries, such as China, who are rich in technology. Huawei is a technology company sponsored by the Chinese government. The company supplies surveillance technology products to a number of autonomous countries. In 2019, the government of Uganda hacked social media accounts and digital communications systems of their political opponents. The technology was provided to them by digital firms in Israel and Italy.

Israeli companies have sold espionage software in many autocratic countries worldwide. These countries include Angola, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mozambique and Nicaragua. In addition, US companies are also selling facial recognition technology in Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The dictators can use the technology to stay in power for a long time. So the number of dictatorships is increasing at present. And this is the secret of democracy. That is, democratic government in the name of countries but activities are like autocracy. With the improvement of artificial intelligence technology, global laws should be applied, such that these technologies are not used for human rights abuses.

Feature Image: Pixabay

I am a designer, blogger and marketer. Love to stay connected to technology and a full stack day dreamer.


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