Authoritarian Practices in the Digital Age| Transforming Threats to Power: The International Politics of Authoritarian Internet Control in Iran

Marcus Michaelsen



Authoritarian Internet control is generally explained by domestic power preservation: to curtail dissent within their borders, authoritarian regimes censor, monitor, and shape online communications. Yet this focus neglects important external factors. As a global communication technology, the Internet carries strategic and normative interests of competing international actors. This article investigates the influence of international politics on practices of Internet surveillance and censorship. Using the case of Iran, I analyze how opposition to the West, and particularly to the United States, led the Iranian state to perceive the Internet as a strategic battleground for regime stability. I argue that external threats in the form of democracy promotion, cyberattacks, and sanctions have created conditions enabling the Iranian state to advance and justify capabilities for censorship and surveillance. They have also pushed the regime to build a “national Internet” that is more resistant to outside influence and open to state control. Authoritarian practices are thus produced in international struggles over the use, content, and infrastructure of digital technologies.


information and communication technologies, censorship, surveillance, authoritarianism, international relations, Iran

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