Monday, March 07, 2005

Blog Freedom or Cyber War

Peace Order and Good Government reports that an Iranian blogger just got 14 years in jail for bloging.

Meanwhile in the USA home of the bloggers, a CNN Poll says most Americans are unfamiliar with blogs. "More than three-quarters of Americans -- 76 percent -- said they use the Internet, but only 26 percent said they were "very familiar" or "somewhat familiar" with blogs.Just 7 percent of adults said they read blogs at least a few times per week, according to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Forty-eight percent said they never do."

From the blogs online the predominance is from the right, with a minority of left wing sites. This is a specifically American phenomena, a strong libertarian republican right wing that are nerds and geeks. Ayn Rand always did appeal to the geek engineer crowd. But they are still a minority just a vocal and visible one.

And when it comes to freedom of speech even in blogs , what Americans take for granted, the rest of us have to fight for.

But is blogging anything more than a flash in the pan. In the world of the Internet this is the 15 minutes of fame.

As Michael Geist writes in yesterdays Toronto Star Say no to Big Brother plan for Internet

"Notwithstanding the Internet's remarkable potential, there are dark clouds on the horizon. There are some who see a very different Internet. Theirs is an Internet with ubiquitous surveillance featuring real-time capabilities to monitor online activities. It is an Internet that views third party applications such as Vonage's Voice-over-IP service as parasitic. It is an Internet in which virtually all content should come at a price, even when that content has been made freely available. It is an Internet that would seek to cut off subscriber access based on mere allegations of wrongdoing, without due process or oversight from a judge or jury." Michael Geist is the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.

And who are these villans, that would create a commercial surrveliance state on the WWW? Well both corporations like Nortel and the State.

The State, whether it is Iranian, American, Turkish, Canadian, the EU or Britain, China, or Russia, is clearly opposed to real free speech that the Internet represents. It will continue to try and restrict the WWW and drive it into commercial only access and intelligence monitoring.

But the web is resilient if nothing else, as the success of WYSIWYG proves. For it is the ability to use java coding and WYSIWYG that eliminates the cumbersome use of HTML for webpages that has given life to blogging. Instant web pages.

And the web has created a cyber dialectic with its own brand of counter intelligence, hacks and hackers. As well as the counter corporate campaigns like those against Nike or in support of stirkes half a world away.

But increased use of the judiciary, laws, and the legislative power of the State
can still restrict access and control to the web.

The increasing commercialization of the web is a serious threat to free speech in its own right. The ability to link to news stories which is a key element in blogging, is being limited as more and more News sites go to subscriber only e commerce. A link like the one above may disappear soon, within seconds, minutes or a day.

Which will simply force more and more blogs to actually archive and keep the stories they comment on rather than relying on links. This is why you wil find actual stories on my blogs rather than just links.

The blog is the revival of what H.P. Lovercraft called the Amatuer Press, and what is now known as the Age of Pulp Fiction 1920-1940. It also coincided with the Surrealist movement in art and literature. As A. J. Leibling said at the time : "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one"

And today with computers and the WWW, bloging and webpages are the Free Press of the cyber age. It is our responbisiblity as (cyber) citizens to keep it so. There is a cyber war going on between Military Intelligence, the State and the Corporations against the citizens on the web, the new Civil Society.

5 comments:

eugene plawiuk said...

The mole, the US media and a White House coup

The reporter who wasn't is part of a wider press scandal, writes Paul Harris in New York

Sunday February 20, 2005
The Observer

see Red Between the Lines

eugene plawiuk said...

I came across this excellent article on Blogfreedom today.

Blogosphere, Public Sphere, and the Future of Cyberdemocracy

By Sean Johnson Andrews
The democratic hopes of the internet are still alive. New cultural forms such as the weblog and the Indymedia sites—both with significant histories behind their development and importance in the current field of journalism—are being promoted as the fulfillment of the promise of the Internet. In both cases, they are presented as anti-mass media, proclaiming the future liberation of all from the restraints of “hierarchical” editorial powers[1] . In the national conversation about the implementation of new technologies, the assumption seems to be that these new mediums of communication will help us get closer to the ideal of the tradition of egalitarian democracy, anarcho-syndicalism, or the bourgeois public sphere. In the longer version of this paper, I frame most of the discussion below in terms of the recent FCC attempts to remove some of the ownership limitations on what might be termed “traditional media” (i.e. TV, Newspapers, radio). On the surface this may seem to be disconnected from the utopian discourse of cyberdemocracy. But it is related in that the FCC has articulated its argument for deregulation in these same terms, resting on the belief that the internet is the new space of the public sphere and, effectively, saying that there is no need to provide any protections elsewhere. In other words, this celebratory discussion is now having real effects despite the fact that few people have stopped to examine its social function or its cultural-technical referent.

The central discussions of this paper, is therefore, centered around Habermas’ Public Sphere—its qualities and controversies—and the way they relate to discussions of technological determinism. My contention is that, while there are certain determinations or “intentions” that may be proffered by the technology of the internet, the way it functions and is used points to a very different quality of activities than the one idealized by Habermas. In fact, in most current use, the internet as a communal space, seems to be heading more towards what he mourns as a “refeudalization.” This can be discussed in the terms of Bourdieu's field of forces and the blogs themselves are more akin to new ideological apparatuses that enable the formation of a habitus of the blogosphere that does little to challenge the media institutions or continued commodification of the technology on which it depends.

eugene plawiuk said...

Capitalism is cracking down on blogging as a subversive activity the newest form of traditional working class resistance: sabotage.
Are your workers blogging about the company?

eugene plawiuk said...

Dear Friends,
Well know Indian blog Mediaah! has decided to stop publishing after receiving a legal notice from the esteemed lawyers retained by a leading Indian media group who asked the editor to delete 19 posts from the Mediaah! weblog and also refrain from writing anything similar and defamatory. But there are protests going on in order to support Mediaah! and to safeguard freedon of expression. I have just read and signed the online petition: "Withdraw the notice against Mediaah! blog" hosted on the web by PetitionOnline.com, the free online petitionservice. I personally agree with what this petition says, and I think you might agree, too. If you can spare a moment, please take a look, and consider signing yourself. First have a look at what the editor says at Mediaah! and read the comments on this issue by Global Voices Online
Best wishes,
Lohan Gunaweera

eugene plawiuk said...

In the Arab world, a blog can mean prison

By William Fisher

Monday, March 21, 2005

In democratic countries, personal Web sites known as Weblogs have grown exponentially over the past few years. In the United States, for example, there are literally millions of "blogs."

Not yet in the Middle East, even though there are many parallels in the region with what has made the phenomenon explode in the United States. For example, blogging technology is available to anyone with access to the Internet, it is cheap, indeed free, and content can easily be created in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and other languages. While home-computer ownership is still embryonic, the deep suspicion of government-owned mainstream media has almost certainly helped spur the growth in the region's Weblogs.

But there is at least one critical difference. In most of the countries of the Middle East, using a personal Weblog to express political dissent can land someone in jail as easily as taking part in an unauthorized political protest in a public square. For example, recently in Iran - one of the worst anti-blogger offenders - a blogger was jailed for 14 years for "spying and aiding foreign counterrevolutionaries," after using his site to criticize the arrest of other online journalists. Despite the risks, an estimated 75,000 Iranians among the country's five million Internet users maintain online blogs. Especially among middle class youth, they have become an important way of expressing dissatisfaction.

Mona al-Tahawy, a columnist at the London-based Saudi daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, writes that bloggers in Iran and Iraq "have inspired others in the Arab world." She also adds: "Despite working in an elite medium, requiring a computer and literacy, bloggers are the voice of the true Arab Street, especially the young."

Like Iran, most countries of the region impose varying degrees of restriction on Weblogs. Saudi Arabia, where authorities block some 400,000 Web sites, is among the most restrictive. It is unclear how many blogsites there are in the kingdom, but those that are accessible focus largely on political dissent.

Typical is a site called "The Religious Policeman." One recent posting asked:

"What reforms? There aren't any reforms! The government promised to set up a higher commission on women's affairs, guaranteed women participation in the recent National Dialogue Forum and in the National Human Rights Commission." It adds: "The National Dialogue Forum agreed to change nothing, the 'team photo' had no women in it, anyone with any sense left in tears."

In Iraq today, there are hundreds of blogsites, most of them run by Iraqis, but also some by American and other coalition soldiers. There are communist, monarchist, Kurdish, Assyrian, Islamist, Shiite, Sunni, nationalist and secularist blogs. Their political positions range from full support for the U.S. invasion and occupation to rabid calls for a jihad against the Americans.

For example, on the one-year commemoration of the start of the Iraq war, a 24-year-old female computer programmer wrote in her "Baghdad Burning" blog: "Occupation Day, April 9, 2003: The day we sensed that the struggle in Baghdad was over and the fear of war was nothing compared to the new fear we were currently facing. It was the day I saw my first American tank roll grotesquely down the streets of Baghdad - through a residential neighborhood. And that was April 9 for me and millions of others." She added: "The current Governing Council wants us to remember April 9 fondly and hail it as our 'National Day,' a day of victory." But, she asks, "whose victory?"

In Egypt, authorities have tightened their control of the country's 600,000 Web users. For example, the Web master of the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly was sentenced to a year in prison for posting a sexually explicit poem, and a 19-year-old student was sentenced to a month in jail for "putting out false information" after reporting that a serial killer was on the loose in Cairo.

In Syria, one blogger asked others to sign an online petition addressed to "The White House" and "The ElysŽes" [sic], the French presidential palace. "With the killing of [former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Lebanon," the site said, "Syrian Baathists are out of control. Who's next? Syria is inciting civil war in Lebanon." Another Syrian, calling himself "Kafka," wrote that a recent speech to the Syrian Parliament by President Bashar Assad "made the Syrian people forget that [he] never cared to give a damn about us since he came to power."

In Tunisia, President Zine al-Abidin ben Ali has been determined to stamp out all cyber-dissidence. The death just over a week ago of prominent cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui, who was sent to jail in 2002-03 for publishing an open letter by his uncle, a prominent magistrate, asking for an independent judiciary, provided a reminder of how harshly the regime had treated the young editor of Tunisia's most popular TuneZine Web site. But Yahyaoui was not alone. Recently, a well-known lawyer was arrested merely for posting an article online.

In Bahrain, two online-forum moderators were recently arrested. Nonetheless, a Bahraini blog called "Sabbah's Blog" was busy organizing a "Middle East Bloggers Meetup." Dozens of enthusiastic comments were posted by readers. Even in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, blogging is beginning to catch on. One Afghan blog reports: "During the Taliban we didn't have the Internet, but now there are about 25 net cafes in Kabul, and also some in Herat, Kandahar, and Balkh provinces. People are really interested to use the Internet but it's too expensive." It adds: "Only rich people can afford it."

There may well be an inverse relationship between the suppression of free expression and the proliferation of blogs in the Middle East. Maybe the lesson for heads of state in the region is this: It's far better to increase freedom of speech and reduce the challenge and expense of having to deal with this cyber uproar.

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

His weblog is www.billfisher.blogspot.com

He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.