Cacophony or Empowerment? Analysing the Impact of New Information Communication Technologies and New Social Media in Southeast Asia

Jason P. Abbott


The capabilities, tools and websites we associate with new information communication technologies and social media are now ubiquitous. Moreover tools that were designed to facilitate innocuous conversation and social interaction have had unforeseen political impacts. Nowhere was this more visible than during the 2011 uprisings across the Arab World. From Tunis to Cairo, and Tripoli to Damascus protest movements against authoritarian rule openly utilized social networking and file sharing tools to publicize and organize demonstrations and to catalogue human rights abuses. The Arab Spring, or Jasmine Revolution, was an event that was both witnessed and played out in real time online. This article explores the impacts and effects of these technologies on regimes in East Asia, in particular exploring the extent to which they proffer new capabilities upon activists and reformers in the region’s semi-democratic and authoritarian regimes. Drawing on data on Internet and smartphone use, as well as case studies that explore the role of these technologies on the 2008 and 2011 general elections in Malaysia and Singapore respectively, this article suggests that the Internet and social networking platforms do present unique opportunities for activists, citizens and social movements.

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