Online Free Expression Day – 12th March


Reporters Without Borders has launched the first Online Free Expression Day today.

To denounce government censorship of the Internet and to demand more online freedom, Reporters Without Borders is calling on Internet users to come and protest in online versions of nine countries that are Internet enemies during the 24 hours from 11 a.m. tomorrow, 12 March, to 11 a.m. on 13 March (Paris time, GMT +1). Anyone with Internet access will be able to create an avatar, choose a message for their banner and take part in one of the cyber-demos taking place in Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, North Korea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. 

It’s an interesting concept, but one wishes it was more accessible and lent itself for a more democratic participation. The manner in which the site is designed makes it impossible for anyone without a web connection, and a broadband one at that, to participate in the virtual demonstrations. The site looks visually appealing, but it comes at a cost – it takes well over a minute to load on my Mobitel HSPA connection, which in turn is significantly faster than my ADSL connection.

The entire site / activity seems to be geared towards an audience in the West and other regions where broadband connectivity is far more prevalent than in some of the countries around which the activity is organised and ultimately supposed to help.  What this means is that many of those who may have liked to participate from within these countries, with network infrastructure of a less developed nature, are barred from doing so.

The initiative also does not take into account the many ways in which mobile phones could have played a role in virtual dissent. A way in which to get SMS’s reflected on the sites, say through an integration with Twitter, would have resulted in many more “protesters”.’s excellent resources for using mobile phones in advocacy campaigns immediately spring to mind as toolkits that RSF could leverage next year to broad base the appeal, reach and participation of a similar campaign

Further, ways could have been devised to include the most ubiquitous of communication over the internet – email – into the campaign, by provision of a simple template (name / place / country / slogan choice) that again could have been reflected in the virtual spaces. (Each banner could have then been a different colour – say red for those who come through the website, blue for those who have SMS’s their message and green for those who emailed in their protest.)

The other question of course is impact. Tough one. Better to organise and hold initiatives such as this than not, but the impact of this kind of virtual protests on the regimes such as Burma, where international condemnation, opprobrium and significant diplomatic pressure has failed to make a difference is questionable.

At least these initiatives keep the problems related to dissent on the web and internet in the public consciousness and one hopes that the statistics of those who did participate over the course of the day is made a permanent record and archived.

Participate in the protests today. If you didn’t or couldn’t, let me know why.

2 thoughts on “Online Free Expression Day – 12th March

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