This article from Bloomberg Businessweek opens with a personal anecdote from one of Vietnam’s growing number of activist bloggers using social media and online resources to criticize the Communist government and its human rights abuses. Activists like Le Quoc Quan can face up to 12 years in prison for their “crimes” against the government, but the article discusses how a burgeoning “thirst for democracy,” growing online civil society, and the government’s flimsy censorship firewall prevent their deterrence.
This blogger activist example closely parallels the themes from the article we read for class on the “Zapatista Effect,” and it demonstrates how imitating that model is even easier now than before because of advances in social media. There is a growing consensus that regulating anti-government activity on the internet is outside the capacity of a small developing country like Vietnam, and activists are realizing the organizing and mobilizing capacity of online networks.
Because I (and many development practitioners) personally view communist policies and oppressive regimes as a worthy enemy of activist bloggers, its easy to applaud the ICT as a great tool for progress. I am concerned however that it is one which could just as easily be harnessed to destabilize and compromise the legitimacy of burgeoning democracies (with little verifiable evidence against them) which might otherwise contribute to positive human and economic development.
Its also interesting that the article mentions how some Western countries, (the U.S. included), are quietly supporting the activist bloggers by criticizing proposed laws meant to restrict them, and at the same time attempting to form economic partnerships with the government working against the activists. This case highlights how state self-interest and human rights agendas continue to come into conflict, on or offline.