Raging against rising internet repression
|Sunday, July 13,2008 00:00|
|By Antony Lowenstein|
During the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2008–sponsored by Harvard University and Google in Budapest, Hungary, in late June, and attended by over 200 bloggers, human rights activists, writers, journalists, hackers and IT experts from every corner of the globe–one participant joked that it was worthwhile buying domain names for dissidents likely to be imprisoned. “Just get them with ‘Free (insert name ” he said. here).com,’
I was invited to present a paper at the two-day event that covered the research for my forthcoming book, The Blogging Revolution, on the Internet in repressive regimes, plans by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to combat Internet child pornography, and my work with Amnesty International Australia on its campaign against Chinese web filtering, Uncensor.
The goal of Global Voices, started in late 2004, is to provide insights into non-Western nations to Western audiences through country-specific blogs. The last years have seen its agenda expand to include a translation service for multiple languages, Global Voices Lingua , support for minorities in developing nations (the Rising Voices project) and Voices without Votes, the chance for global citizens to comment on the 2008 US presidential election campaign in every country except America.
Although everybody I met came from varied backgrounds, from the elites to indigenous communities using new technology to find a voice in a country like
Nobody talked about revolution or massive social change, but rather the ability to become engaged in a process usually reserved for an unelected class. In
Numerous sessions revealed insights into societies all too easily categorized as oppressive. Iranian exile Hamid Tehrani revealed that the regime, now with one of the most effective web-filtering systems outside of
Only last week Iranian members of parliament announced a draft bill that aims to “toughen punishment for disturbing mental security in society.” The text of the bill would add “establishing websites and weblogs promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy” to the list of crimes punishable by execution.
The perception of the Internet in various countries remains troubling. Singaporean blogger Au Wai Pang said that the tool is “free” in his country, “but people behave like it is not.” Self-censorship is a key barrier to open debate. Au reminded the
A number of prominent Kenyan bloggers, including Ory Okolloh and Daudi Were, discussed the role of new technology in the aftermath of the stolen election in late 2007. With only 7-10 percent web penetration in the country, bloggers on election day woke up early to film people waiting patiently in line to vote. Some were even embedded with foreign observers and could immediately report, via SMS and Twitter, irregularities in the counting process. International support in the Diaspora was crucial to highlight this relatively stable nation descend into ethnic chaos.
Blogger Luis Carlos Diaz, from
Despite these valid questions, one of China’s leading dissidents, Isaac Mao, wished that the Chinese mob mentality online on issues of national importance wasn’t so strong. He stressed that although the concept of freedom of speech is paramount in the West, many other societies place greater emphasis on the rule of law and fighting corruption.
Mao, who launched Digital Nomads to host hundreds of independent blogs away from prying authoritarian rule, feared citizens in prosperous, Western citizens rarely understood the “crimes of omission” in their own societies. “They don’t get why the non-Western world wants to talk about issues that the Western largely ignores,” Mao said, “such as poverty and environmental degradation.” A major theme of the event was highlighted. Too few bloggers in the West were bridging the information gap between different societies and preferred to preach rather than listen.
The role of blogs in
It was encouraging to hear from IT insiders that many employees of companies such as Google and Yahoo feel distinctly uncomfortable with the role their companies play in a country such as China and regularly leak material about their actions anonymously and develop tools to allow an e-mail program such as Gmail to be used securely, away from the prying eyes of censorious regimes.