Civil society activists in Azerbaijan are trying to push back against government efforts to restrict space for public debate. And they’re hoping a recent global Internet forum in Baku will expand international support for their cause.
Social media has been a boon for democratization forces around the world, most notably in the Middle East and North Africa. But a recent tragedy in Turkey helps highlights the fact that social media also has a potentially dark side for democratization efforts.
Ulan Djumashev dropped another sugar cube into his tea and looked around the café, a popular meeting spot for Bishkek’s educated elite.
“See everyone here? I’d say 95 percent of them are Kyrgyz,” he said, looking out at the mod clientele seated in plush armchairs, tapping at laptops and tucking into hamburgers. “And what language are they speaking? Russian.”
When officials in Uzbekistan announced a contest to crown the country’s best Internet cafe, Diyorbek, an owner of a thriving spot in Andijan, entered, and, believing his business fulfilled all the criteria, he gave himself a decent shot at winning.
In a society where people love nothing more than a freewheeling, hours-long chat with friends, the trend seems anomalous. Statistics indicate gregarious Georgians are turning to Facebook for news and information.
Officials in Azerbaijan want to make the act of spreading “misinformation” a “cyber-crime.” Some Azerbaijani civil rights activists worry that the initiative is driven by a desire to restrict Azerbaijani web users’ access to online information.