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Katy Pearce: Azerbaijani authorities use social media to suppress dissent

In Azerbaijan the opposition as well as the government uses social media to have an influence on the society of the country. Social media provides the regime with an alternative medium to harass the opposition and demonstrate its power. Katy Pearce, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington specialized on technology and media of former Soviet space wrote about this in her article published in quarterly American journal «Demokratizatsiya» dedicated to studying of political processes in the post-Soviet space.

"The traditional opposition parties do not leverage all affordances of it; however oppositionists not affiliated with traditional parties are leveraging social media to build audiences. While the regime is currently "winning” the social media battle, oppositionists are using the new and creative ways to unite people around them,” the author states.

According to her, the Azerbaijani authorities have a unique way of regulating the Internet: instead of using high-level filtering, they use psychological techniques to create an environment of self-censorship. The government also monitors and punishes social media-enabled dissent.

"In Azerbaijan, the government has nearly total control of the mainstream media. Accordingly, in the last few years, many oppositionally-minded Azerbaijanis have turned to the Internet to express their political views. With the growth of social media, especially Facebook (between 13-18 percent of Azerbaijanis had a Facebook account as of late 2013), this sort of political deliberation has increased. As the openness of the Internet became an attractive space for activists, the Azerbaijani government seemingly took notice and began formulating a policy to control it,” the article reads.

As it is stated in the article, social networks are also used for the organization of various protest actions. Since early 2013, there has been a number of protest actions organized primarily via Facebook without any sponsorship from any of the traditional opposition parties.

"Facebook is a particular threat to the Azerbaijani government. After an increase in Facebook activism in early 2013, some pro-government Azerbaijani politicians made statements about limiting or blocking Facebook. "These networks create a threat to Azerbaijan’s statehood” Fazail Agamali, leader of the pro-government party Motherland said,” Pearce writes.

According to her, Facebook was not blocked; however that was not the last mention of Facebook as threat during the year.



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