Watching Over You

Allowing citizens access to the internet without ‘compromising’ the regime – it’s a balancing act that some states are finding difficult to achieve and others have no intention of fulfilling. Today’s maps show the countries where you need to take heed of what you do online.

Prepared by: ISN Staff

clip_image002

Amnesty International poster on Chinese internet censorship

Allowing citizens access to the internet without ‘compromising’ the regime – it’s a balancing act that some states are finding difficult to achieve and others have no intention of fulfilling. Today’s maps show the countries where you need to take heed of what you do online.

Yesterday we kludged together Gene Sharp’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance with Clay Shirky’s belief that social media is a revolutionary instrument of political change. Our intention was indeed to celebrate the potential empowerment this media can provide the average person in the street. But as we also mentioned yesterday, every positive has its negative. In the case of Sharp and Shirky, it is Evgeny Morozov’s belief that internet-based media can be used, and indeed is used, by repressive regimes to maintain their grip on power. (They do so by gathering open source intelligence, co-opting bloggers, planting legitimacy-enhancing narratives, etc.)

China is perhaps the most celebrated example of a state today that actively seeks to limit its citizens’ access to the internet. It is about to invoke a new law, for example, that will require users of Sina Weibo, China’s most popular micro-blogging site, to register under their real names.

And yet, although it is easy to point an accusatory finger at repressive regimes, today’s presentation confirms that states with bona fide democratic credentials are just as guilty of internet censorship as the ‘usual suspects’. Our first map, for example, is based on data provided by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and identifies those states which engage in overt cyber-censorship. As so-called “Internet Enemies” the countries marked in red make up a familiar ‘who’s who’ of online censors – Myanmar, China, Iran, etc. Cyber-attacks to silence dissenting opinion, slowing down bandwidth during elections or simply cutting off access altogether are among the common tools of their trade.

When we turn, however, to RSF’s list of “Countries under Surveillance,” marked in yellow on the map, it is by no means made up of rogue or failed states and repressive regimes. Instead, it includes democratic nations such as Australia and France, which RSF accuses of subjecting their ‘netizens’ to targeted filtering and severely limiting their online freedom of speech. Additionally, RSF deems assorted “Countries under Surveillance” to be guilty of intimidating online journalists and bloggers with threats of violence and/or legal proceedings.

clip_image004

Ultimately, the main difference between RSF’s “Internet Enemies” and “Countries under Surveillance” is outlined by our second map. While the number of imprisoned netizens seems comparatively small, the map nevertheless reflects several defining features of the current international system. That China leads the way in terms of punishment of its netizens is a given. Whether the number of such imprisonments will rise as a result of previously mentioned legislation is yet to be determined, as is the case of the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. Yet, if we focus firmly on the here-and-now, there is one undeniable ‘truth’ to glean about censorship and the internet: if states are suitably motivated to restrict their netizens’ access online, then there is little the international community can do in the short-term to prevent them.

clip_image006

Read more:

http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/Special-Feature/Detail?lng=en&id=137619&contextid774=137619&contextid775=137418&tabid=137418

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s