Monday, October 08, 2007

The limits of citizen journalism

John Naughton in the Observer this weekend makes a very good point......

Stick it up your junta

Once upon a time, we thought that the internet was essentially uncontrollable. Our mantra was John Gilmore's dictum that 'the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it'. The ruling Burmese junta never had much time for Mr Gilmore's utopian views, however, and so have always exercised heavy control of internet use. A few months ago, the OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration between academics, reported that the Burmese regime blocked 85 per cent of email service providers and nearly all pro-democracy sites. And all in a nation in which less than 1 per cent of citizens have internet access in the first place.

After images of beaten-up Buddhist monks and the killing of a Japanese photographer leaked out via the internet last week, however, the junta took even more drastic steps - apparently physically disconnecting primary telecommunications cables in two major cities. As the extent of the clampdown became clear, John Palfrey of Harvard University, a leading expert on internet censorship, was much in demand. How did this compare with other state-controlled actions? 'I've never seen anything like this cut-off to the internet on such a broad scale so crudely and completely,' he said. 'They've taken the nuclear bomb approach. We've witnessed what appear to be denial of service type attacks during elections, for instance, but nothing so large-scale as this shutdown.'

The only silver lining is that some information has leaked out. When I last checked, the Facebook group 'Support the Monks' Protest in Burma' had 326,981 members.

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