Myanmar’s sad lesson – Internet censorship still rules

The hope, I suppose, is that the military junta restores at least some form of Internet and cell access. The most clever people in Burma will find a way to use it to get information through the blockages. But the future of access to information about Burma, and by people within Burma, looks bleak.

An interview with John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School on Technology Review brings to light the fact that repressive regimes can still almost wholly block the use of the Internet and web by dissidents, severely vitiating their use most recently in Myanmar. I’ve covered the issue of web and Internet censorship by governments extensively in this blog, as well as disturbing trends such as the censorship of the web by Google. Though I remain an optimist, one cannot deny that relying on the Internet and web to support and strengthen local and international attention towards social and political movements against tyranny and authoritarian rule runs the risk of failure unless other more resilient means are also adopted to sustain such processes in the long-term. As Julien Pain avers, Dictatorships catching up with Web 2.0.

It was about as simple and uncomplicated as shooting demonstrators in the streets. Embarrassed by smuggled video and photographs that showed their people rising up against them, the generals who run Myanmar simply switched off the Internet.

Until Friday television screens and newspapers abroad were flooded with scenes of tens of thousands of red-robed monks in the streets and of chaos and violence as the junta stamped out the biggest popular uprising there in two decades.

But then the images, text messages and postings stopped, shut down by generals who belatedly grasped the power of the Internet to jeopardize their crackdown.

In Monks Are Silenced, and for Now, Internet Is Too published on the New York Times, Seth Mydans draws a rather bleak picture for citizen journalism in and out of Myanmar after the junta woke up to the fact that the Internet and web were being used against them. And yet, there’s enough and more content from preceding days that indubitably demonstrate the brutality of the junta in Myanmar.

5 thoughts on “Myanmar’s sad lesson – Internet censorship still rules

  1. Thank you for your continued posts on the situation in Myanmar. Our organization, the Overseas Press Club of America, works to support a free press globally. What are your thoughts on filters, and governments that block specific sites and/or articles?

  2. Starting with the Sri Lankan government that’s blocking Tamilnet, a Tamil nationalist website biased towards the LTTE, all web censorship is reprehensible and is not in line with international covenants on the freedom of expression and domestic laws ensuring free media. Clearly, the contestation between free speech and that which incites hatred is open for debate, but I feel this is ultimately mediated best through democracy and users themselves, and not necessarily through edicts and laws passed by governments (who very often have their own parochial interests in doing so).

    I’ve written extensively about censorship and the web on this blog – just search for the term and you’ll come across many of the posts. Please also read:

    Building peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projects
    Defeating repressive regimesDefeating repressive regimes – Take 2

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