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The Internet and Democracy: Global Catalyst or Democratic Dud?



In this study we explore the global effect of the Internet on democracy over the period of 1992 to 2002 by observing the relationships between measures related to democracy and Internet prevalence. Our results show a significant correlation between Internet penetration (measured as the estimated number of Internet users per 1,000 people) and a common indicator of a nation's level of democratization provided by the Freedom House. With a multivariate linear regression model, we show that this correlation maintains even when we control for a nation's geographic region, economic level, and social development. Our findings suggest that a 25% increase in Internet penetration links to a one point jump on the 14 point Freedom House democracy index while still accounting for regional and socio-economic development. Indeed, we find that Internet penetration explains more variation in the level of democratic development within a country than does literacy rates and some of the regional categories.

We employ Lessig's framework of regulation to examine the cause of this Internet-democracy correlation. Lessig defines four classes of regulators, forces that control and define systems such as the Internet. They are markets, architectures, norms, and laws. We argue that a democratic regulator is a force that serves to enhance civil or political liberties. And we argue by example that there are democratic (and, indeed, anti-democratic) regulators which control aspects of cyberspace.