Five Reasons Why Turning Off The Internet is a Bad Idea: Practical Advice for Busy Dictators

According to news reports Syrian President Bashar al Assad has apparently unplugged his country from The Internet. If you are a desperate despot I can see why you might be tempted to reach for that OFF switch when you get a few dislikes on Facebook. But as a communication consultant I don't recommend this for five reasons.

1. MORE NEGATIVE PRESS.  Turning off The Internet gets you some seriously bad press. I don't recall anyone ever writing a neutral-to-positive piece about this. You are probably getting some negative coverage anyway for other unpleasant things, but you don't mess with The Internet and get away with it.

2. DRIVES ANGER TO THE STREETS. Turning off The Internet can have the entirely unintended effect of encouraging more direct action. People are still angry and maybe they were venting their anger online, posting negative content on social media. Without this outlet they have little choice but to turn off the computer, hit the streets and throw hard, heavy stuff at wherever you live.

3. CUTS YOU OUT OF THE LOOP.  While The Internet is up you at least get to see what people are saying, who said it and who liked it. Turn the regular web off and people resort to other channels that you can neither monitor nor control. Now you don't even know how much angry they are or what they are going to do next.

4. THE BACKLASH CAN HURT.  Doing anything bad to The Internet winds up geeks who know how to hurt you. Remember all the embarrassing emails you sent to mistresses? Now they will be on the web for everyone to see. Have an official website? It will get hit like Mastercard and Visa. And remember how web-savvy jokers linked searches for the phrase "miserable failure" to the biography of George W Bush?   Do you really want to be the first google result for "asshole"?

5. DRIVES COMMUNICATION UNDERGROUND.  Most of all, once you show people that a communication network is not dependable you just give a lot of people the idea that they need a more robust, government-proof communication network. Maybe local community organizers will get satellite links. Maybe their neighbors install a peer-to-peer network that needs no state infrastructure. Or perhaps people can fall back on pen-and-paper solutions.

You might get a short-term relief from negative coverage by turning off The Internet, but long term it isn't going to do much good. People will just find other ways to get the word out and meantime you get yourself an even worse reputation as an Enemy of The Internet. People of The Internet do not forgive, they do not forget and they have a way of getting their own back.

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