Tag Archives: censorship

Social Media and Violence

It is almost universally agreed upon that individuals and groups have a right to their freedom of expression and freedom of the press. These freedoms are essential to a strong civil society and are critical in any democracy. Social media is very obviously intertwined with these freedoms, as it provides an outlet for individuals to connect, communicate, and express their voices and opinions.

There are many positive benefits to social media. Here at Tulane, we get emails of every crime reported in the nearby area. In the greater New Orleans area, we have gotten text messages with “water boil advisories” when the water is unsafe to drink. These benefits have been seen on a global scale as well. The Zapatista group in Mexico was able to spread their message through the use of the Internet, and gained a lot of international attention, thereby holding the Mexican government accountable to their demands. Social media was critical in the organization and mobilization of individuals in the Arab Spring, and helped shape democratic ideas globally.


However, social media is not always used for the greater good, as exemplified recently in Myanmar. Until recently, Myanmar was under military rule, where there was tight censorship and limited access to telecommunication technologies. This ensured that the vast majority of citizens in Myanmar remained “in the dark” about what was truly happening in their country. The International cites a publication of the UN Human Development Index with figures regarding ICTs in Myanmar: in 2010, one of every 100 citizens owned a computer, less than 300 owned mobile phones, and only 13% had electricity. It currently ranks as the second to last country in the world for Internet connectivity.

However, with the new leadership of President Thein Sein, this is all beginning to change. The President hopes to implement reforms to allow for more freedom of expression. The government plans to provide mobile access to the majority of the population by 2015. Moreover, last month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited Myanmar to launch the new page www.google.com.mm. However, since that original visit, Schmidt has had pessimistic predictions for the future of the Internet in Myanmar.

He recently posted on his Google+ page the following quote.

As the police state has withdrawn, always present religious tensions have erupted with burning of homes and some murders. With popular support, the government then responded with the Army to restore order. In the same way, we are entering a dangerous period for the Internet in Myanmar. What happens when a religious group falsely claims damages from others.. will the Army be sent in too? The country cannot even agree on a press freedoms law for the newspapers, and freedom of political speech is a one year old concept.

The group that has largely been oppressed and had severe violence inflicted on them recently are the Rohingya people, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group. Many in the country have used social media to organize against this group. The International, writes that “the newfound access to social media has been blamed for the swift increase in violence”. The Myanmar case demonstrates an example of where social media has caused extraordinary violence and oppression.


Of course, there is a flip side to this — the group Anonymous has used Twitter to expose what they call a genocide of the Rohingya people. The hashtag #RohingyaNOW was hit a peak of 24,000 tweets per hour. The Daily Beast posted an article on this, for further reading.

Radio FreeEurope in Azerbaijan


This week in class, we have been discussing the various ways in which radio can be used in underdeveloped countries. What we may think of as an outdated technology, radio has continued to stay relevant in the field of development. Radio can provide education, information and news to the most rural populations whether it be learning about farming methods, or informing the public of healthy life practices to increase hygiene, sanitation, and reproductive health. More importantly, radio can be used to allow the oppressed to find their voices and identity, hold officials accountable.

Radio FreeEurope is a broadcaster funded by the U.S. congress that provides information and news to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East- countries “where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed”

In Azerbaijan’s case, the station exists because of the former. Azerbaijan has a Freedom House Freedom of the Press Index “Not Free” and Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index rank of 162nd/179. The government of Azerbaijan jails journalists and heavily censors all media. Since December 2008, all international broadcasters including Radio Azadliq, the BBC, Voice of America and Radio FreeEurope were banned from broadcasting on local radio requencies. On Radio FreeEurope’s website, it explains that

In an environment of total government control over national television and radio channels, Radio Azadliq has a firm reputation as the only source of unbiased information and the most professional media outlet in Azerbaijan.”

Radio is an important tool to providing unbiased news and consequently  the ability to hold a government accountable for their true actions. Radio and access to channels like Radio FreeEurope are powerful tools to political freedom and freedom of speech.

Evgeny Morozov & the dark side of ICTs

During our class on Tuesday, guest lecturer Adam Papedieck mentioned Evgeny Morozov and encouraged us to check out his TedTalks about the “dark side” of ICTs in developing nations.

Check out the TedTalk by Evgeny Morozov, How the Net Aids Dictatorships, here!   This video greatly compliments the other videos and writings by Morozov and Clay Shirky that my peers have analyzed this week in response to Papedieck’s suggestion.

Morozov criticizes the view that we can promote democracy through the spread of ICTs and the Internet.  In class and many blog posts, we have highlighted crowdsourcing, blogging, Internet access, and the social media as means to promote development, democratize information, and empower marginalized communities.  However, Morozov points out that the Internet perpetuates authoritarianism in many developing nations and defers democracy.

It’s important that consider both the positive and negative outcomes of ICT proliferation.  While we focus on positive uses of ICTs and potential development outcomes, we must be sure not to ignore potential unintended consequences.  This TedTalk is not meant to present a pessimistic view of ICT or to discourage optimistic ICT4D efforts, rather it is meant to encourage realism and encourage us to take consider all possible outcomes.  Morozo ends with this great quote: “We have to stop thinking about the number of iPods per capita, and we can start thinking about ways we can empower intellectuals, dissidents, NGOs, and the members of civil society.”

Ai Weiwei: Social Media for Social Change

The Chinese government closely monitors Internet traffic and censors citizens’ ability to access share/access information.  As we discussed in class, the country’s strict censorship has been dubbed the ‘Great Firewall of China’.  Recently I watched a documentary called Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry by Alison Krayman. The film depicts Ai, an international artist and political activist, as he speaks out against the Chinese government, largely through social media as a medium for his art.  He states, “Internet is the answer to achieve a civil society,” and explains that Twitter and blogs provides Chinese citizens with a sense of freedom they have never had before.

He has used these platforms to mobilize citizens and raise international awareness of unethical practices of the Chinese government.  In 2008, the Sichuan Earthquake had devastating effects on the state of China. The communist government did not reveal details of citizen casualties, especially among school children.  Investigations proved that poor construction of Chinese schools led to the unnecessary death of thousands of young students.  Through the Internet, Ai Weiwei organized volunteers to visit schools and even knock door-to-door to learn of the specific children that were harmed by the disaster.  In total, Ai developed a database of over 5,219 students killed and created a memorial piece of art in their honor.

Through the power of social media, Ai strives to transform China into a “modern society” and promote freedom of speech for the Chinese people. He encourages young people to get involved in social media as this powerful medium allows individuals to instantly reach the masses and has the potential to make a significant impact on society.

Here is a TED Talk about Ai Weiwei and his efforts in China to leverage social media for social change.

Differences between Twitter and Chinese Sina Weibo


Recently I read a blog post saying that Chinese social media users are ‘happier’ and write ‘less political’ messages on their profiles than Westerners, according to a major new study by the computer scientists at the Delft University of Technology in Holland and the Shanghai Jiaotong University who studied 46 million messages posted on Twitter and the enormously popular Sina Weibo.

I think this is interesting because I use both Twitter and Sina Weibo very often. Here are some differences I came up with from my personal experience.

1. Identity verification: On Sina Weibo, most of the users have to submit their real identity to the Sina company in order to use more functions. A lot of Weibo users who have a large number of followers, such as celebrities, websites, and organizations, have already used their real name as account names, which encourages more new users to be identified to get certain badges beside their profiles. For example, I gave out my ID number to get verified so I got a new badge to show off.

2. Function of social media: Most of the time I see Weibo as a tool for entertainment merged with commercials because there is plenty of information regarding sales, constellation, comics and daily personal posts. Besides, it has been developed more like a Facebook in that there is an app and game center for users to connect and participate in this type of social media. On Twitter, on the other hand, the content created by users is more narrowed down. People tend to retweet more about political and other news without sharing too many personal stories or feelings.

3. Censorship: Obviously, corporations in mainland China such as Sina, for survival  have to compromise to the censorship policies implemented by the Chinese government. Users create “happier” contents with the guidance and direction of Sina. Any inappropriate user content will be detected by the Sina system and deleted by the staff in charge. Sometimes, users’ accounts get blocked or the users get tracked down for posts that are considered sensitive. It’s hard to say Twitter has this similar implicit trend from my observation so far. But anyway, “less political” is sort of a condition for users to continue their rights of speech.

Internet Freedom Issues in Vietnam

This article details the problems with Internet censorship in Vietnam on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s visit to the country in August. The developing nation has the fastest growing Internet population in Asia, with one in three now online and two to three million new users a year are expected. This is a promising development for the nation, with the government recognizing the Internet as “an integral part of the ‘knowledge era’ the country must enter if economic development is to be sustained.”

However, the growth of the Internet has led to complications with the restrictive communist government. The government introduced a law in April that would greatly regulate internet activity and prevent bloggers from posting anonymously. An incident occurred in July in which the mother of an Internet blogger set herself on fire in front of the People’s Committee office to protest her daughter’s arrest for posting critically about sensitive national issues regarding police abuses. This present an interesting dilemma that bears thinking about this semester as we learn about ICT for Development. While the infrastructure and technology may be put in place in developing countries, there is the extra challenge to make sure that the internet and other technologies are used to their full potential, despite restrictive governments attempts to regulate Internet freedom. Not only do developers have to put the technologies in place, they also must worry about them being used properly and to their full potential.

Cases Across Asia

Cases across Asia:

1) Too much control:

Google has been released world-wide, available to every country- except China. Unlike Google plus, which had been terminated by tireless government blocking. Although there are drives equivalent to Google available, such as: Baidu’s WangPan or Shanda’s Everbox, the citizens of China had no voice in the decision. Yet again, China’s rulers have made a choice to keep certain information out of reach.

“Today in international tech news: Google Drive is “dead in the water” in China. Meanwhile, a soap opera is unfolding in South Korea, where there’s a feud between the chairman of Samsung and family members who want a bigger piece of the company’s fortune. Elsewhere, Twitter plays a central, and unfortunate, role in an English court case.”(Google Drive Hits China’s Wall)

2) What happened to restrictions?

“The victim of a 2011 rape had her identity divulged both on Twitter and on a television broadcast that displayed a Twitter feed as part of its coverage, according to The Guardian” (Twitter Overshares).

The newspaper released this statement, “”In our coverage last night we very briefly revealed the victim’s name despite heavy redaction, and if watching in real-time viewers would not have noticed,” said a Sky News spokeswoman. “We would, however, like to apologize to the victim and her family for any distress caused.””

The two cases, while unrelated, bring up the issue of security- how much is too much or not enough?