By William Vogt
Since the rise and fall of the Arab Spring, debate has raged in the fields intersecting communications, technology, and international affairs: will Internet growth be a liberalizing influence that will create stable, prosperous democracies?
So far, this answer appears to be a qualified “no.” Connected and educated youths have not created the groundswell necessary for reform in many politically unstable countries. On the other hand, investments in information communications technologies (ICTs) have greatly improved local economies in many developing countries and hold promise in exposing and rooting out corruption.
In this last point, fighting corruption, the rise of the Internet as a social and economic force has created perplexing political trends. Increased Internet penetration does reduce at least one key aspect of corruption affecting free market interactions: barriers to market entry (for producers and consumers) due to opaque regulations and powerful oligarchies. In fact, studies have shown that merely the act of searching broad terms like “corruption” on an online search engine has significant impacts on the ability of the state to engage in corrupt, anti-competitive practices like demanding bribes from businesses.
This trend, however, does not hold globally and there is one part of the world that has created a particularly worrying balance between the forms of democracy and what is functionally a system of corruption: Latin America. Over its long history this region has developed a unique political culture with a prominent role for the ideology frequently described today as “populism.”