Digital Activism, Repressed

In repressive regimes, authorities have always sought to silence any opposition in any form.  As Simon Columbus discusses in “The New Casualties: Prisons and Persecution,” the Internet has provided activists with a new platform to voice such opposition, and hence, digital activists have emerged.  Although Cyberspace was created with the intention of allowing anyone, anywhere, to express his or her beliefs “without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity,” as stated in the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, such has not been the case (166).

Although the Internet allows activists to spread their thoughts and ideas to a mass audience, it does not protect them from being persecuted by the government for doing so.  Columbus discusses “Twitter revolutions” in reference to uprisings instigated by the use of digital technologies.  Digital activism, however, makes it hard for authorities to locate and target a leader, and thus they have resorted to arresting random individuals as scapegoats.  Columbus sums up the effect: “the average citizen starting a group that could possibly participate in action against those in charge soon becomes subject to “state repression” (173).  According to Tom Glaisyer in “Political Factors: Digital Activism in Closed and Open Societies,” the response of authoritarian societies such as China and Iran is likely to include their adoption of digital technology for the use of repressing oppositional movements instigated on the Internet.  Such digital technology includes surveillance tools, which according to Glaisyer, will likely help repressive governments control digital activists, as well as the population in general.

Although it does not apply to the authoritative governments of other countries, think about the consequences of digital activism in closed societies in terms of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.  Does the government’s repression of movements instigated on the Internet in such closed societies violate the basic rights to free speech and assembly, as provisioned by the First Amendment?

This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Digital Activism, Repressed

  1. cwcullen says:

    I think you made some interesting points about the strengths and setbacks of the Internet in respect to government involvement. It is hard to draw the line between healthy government interference and censorship. When terrorist groups use the Internet to communicate, for example, I wouldn’t have a problem with the government taking action but it is hard to know where to draw the line. In addition to potential censorship, it is concerning that authoritarian governments are able to use the Internet as a surveillance tool.

  2. andgoldberg says:

    While the Internet allows for the spreading of information instantaneously throughout a society, particularly restrictive governments such as China have played the role of censoring and regulating Internet use. Whether it be restricting individual sites to patrolling individual internet activity, governments have been paying more attention to the Internet. All in all, the Internet has plenty of uses/benefits for the average citizen. People can attempt to voice their opinions from anonymous accounts to becoming more knowledgable about current political events/issues. If we attempt to use the Internet for more of an educational purpose, governments may refrain from over censorship and let the Internet users consume the content they want.

  3. gkornblau says:

    As Americans, we naturally believe that government restrictions on the Internet in a violation of our basic rights provided by the First Amendment. However, in countries where citizens do not have the privilege of free speech, the government has greater authority to censor speech and Internet activity. When you consider the Internet from the perspective of a totalitarian government, its capabilities are terrifying. It seems that the potential of the Internet as an education tool is more threatening that the use of the Internet as entertainment. As Morozov describes, many people of other countries we more interested in using the internet to watch funny Youtube videos or television shows, not to find political information. Therefore, in attempt to reduce government surveillance on the Internet in these countries, I think that it would be best to frame Internet use as pure entertainment, rather than as an eduction or political informant.

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