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Equivocation and Internet Freedom in Azerbaijan [Temporary record]

  • Katy Pearce

Azerbaijan has a unique approach to Internet regulation that represents a ‘middle path’ between  open access and censorship. Because the Internet is both unpredictable and a prime venue of unsanctioned content, it threatens what the Azerbaijani government values most: power through consistency, consistency through power.

There are three generations of Internet control that a government can use. The first generation is  widespread filtering and direct censorship. Second generation controls manipulate regulations on  acceptable content and change the "use of defamation, slander, and ‘veracity’ laws, to deter bloggers and independent media from posting material critical of the government or specific  government officials, however benignly (including humor)". The third generation competes with Internet freedom "through effective counter information campaigns that overwhelm, discredit or demoralize opponents".

While Azerbaijan does little first generation control (although it has sporadically filtered  opposition news sources, especially before elections), it instead discourages technology use in  three ways: media framing (third generation), monitoring (third generation) and arrests (second and  third generation). Together these have created psychological barriers that impacts Azerbaijani technology use.

Despite this, the Azerbaijani government repeatedly claims that "there is Internet freedom in Azerbaijan." By electing to define Internet freedom in the strictest sense of the word, the government uses a semantic shift to deflect criticism.

A mixed-methods nationally representative study of Azerbaijani Internet use will demonstrate the detrimental effect Azerbaijani government efforts to dissuade Internet use has on Internet use and free expression.

Katy E. Pearce is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington and holds an affiliation with the Ellison Center for Russian East European, and Central Asian Studies. She specializes in technology and media use in the Former Soviet Union. Her research focuses on social and political uses of technologies and digital content in the transitioning democracies and semi-authoritarian states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, but primarily Armenia and Azerbaijan. She has a BA (2001) in Armenian Studies and Soviet Studies from the University of Michigan, an MA (2006) in International Studies from the University of London School for Oriental and African Studies, and a PhD (2011) in Communication from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was a Fulbright scholar (Armenia 2007-2008).