The Internet has revolutionised the world’s media. Personal websites, blogs and discussion groups have given a voice to men and women who were once only passive consumers of information. It has made many newspaper readers and TV viewers into fairly successful amateur journalists.
Dictators would seem powerless faced with this explosion of online material. How could they monitor the e-mails of China’s 130 million users or censor the messages posted by Iran’s 70,000 bloggers? The enemies of the Internet have unfortunately shown their determination and skill in doing just that. China was the first repressive country to realise that the Internet was an extraordinary tool of free expression and quickly assembled the money and personnel to spy on e-mail and censor “subversive” websites. The regime soon showed that the Internet, like traditional media, could be controlled. All that
was needed was the right technology and to crack down on the first “cyber-dissidents.”
The Chinese model has been a great success and the regime has managed to dissuade Internet users from openly mentioning political topics and when they do to just recycle the official line. But in the past two years, the priority of just monitoring online political dissidence has given way to efforts to cope with
unrest among the population. The Internet has become a sounding-board for the rumblings of discontent in most Chinese provinces. Demonstrations and corruption scandals, once confined to a few cities, have spread across the country with the help of the Internet. In 2005, the government sought to counter the surge in cyber-dissidence. It beefed up the law and drafted what might be called “the ten commandments” for Chinese Internet users – a set of very harsh rules targeting online editors. The regime is both efficient and inventive in spying on and censuring the Internet.
Other governments have unfortunately imitated it.
Read the full report here.