The Internet and Democracy: Global Catalyst or Democratic Dud?


Best, M.L. & Wade, K.W. (2005). The Internet and Democracy: Global Catalyst or Democratic Dud?. Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2005-12. Cambridge: Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

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Type of work: Article (academic)


ICT4D | Politics and Political Science


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 bivariate 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 using the most recent 2001-2002 data. Our findings suggest that while Internet usage was not a very powerful predictor of democracy when examining full panel data from 1992- 2002, it was a stronger predictor when we study data from just the years 2001-2002. Our findings show that in this time period an extra 131 Internet users per 1,000 people corresponds to a one point jump on the 14 point democracy index while controlling for region 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 hypothesize that the jump in the ability of Internet penetration indicators to explain variation in democratization that occurred in 2000 suggests that the Internet may have only recently came into its own as a positive force for democratization. However, these results are not globally consistent and we show that some regions do not enjoy a positive Internet/democracy correlation suggesting that the Internet can be used both as a tool for democratization as well as an instrument for authoritarianism.