Each week brings new stories of how people use digital media to break the rules of political power. Or more accurately, each week brings new stories about how people have used digital media to upset powerful elites, demand political freedoms, and look for justice. Activists armed only with mobile phones take breathtaking risks because they feel empowered by the supporting social networks they have been able to build and nurture for themselves. Yet sometimes digital media also gets used for evil, and we find drug lords, holy thugs, and rogue generals using the latest information technologies to oppress the communities they rule. So how do we add up the impact of such technologies on international politics? If digital media is so important to revolutionaries, dictators and corporate interests around the world, what are the new rules of engagement in global power politics? We are entering a period of global political life I call the Pax Technica that is made possible because of new information technologies. This peace is not so much the absence of war but the presence of transparent governments, empowered citizens, open information systems, and shared norms of information access. Governments don’t always want to be opened up for scrutiny, and activists don’t always use social media very well. But it is clear that the rules of global power politics have changed.
Philip N. Howard is professor of communication, information and international studies at the University of Washington. Currently, he is a fellow at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. His latest book is Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring. His writings appear at http://philhoward.org and tweets from @pnhoward.