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How Authoritarian Regimes Use the Internet to Exert Control Over Citizens

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Chinese people surfing the internet in Beijing.

Rulers looking to consolidate power are using digital technologies more than ever before to surveil, censor, and suppress their people. Just last month, it was reported that Moscow is weaving artificial intelligence (AI) into its city surveillance system. Much has been made about the spread of this “digital authoritarianism” and what to do about it, especially as AI plays a greater role in enhancing and enabling authoritarian governance.

Yet digital authoritarianism has existed for decades—not in the physical space that AI is emerging in now, but online, through the Internet; it’s not new in principle. What analysts today call “digital authoritarianism” is “networked authoritarianism” and other terms by other names. For those wringing their hands over what to do about dictators spying on and repressing their citizens via AI, looking at the spread of digital authoritarianism on the far-less-flashy Internet is a good place to start.

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