It’s impossible to close down cyberspace

In 2002, US Senator Trent Lott made a racist statement that was only published on ABC’s online edition. American bloggers spotted the comment and relayed it for weeks until the mainstream media were forced to deal with the issue and the senator was forced to resign. It was one of the first cases that showed how a new medium of social and political pressure could change things. Two years ago, blogs were the place chosen by young people in the suburbs of French cities to protest police action ordered by then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2001, mobile phone messages played a decisive role in a four-day revolution in the Philippines that toppled former President Joseph Estrada from power. Since 2001 there has been in South Korea the online newspaper, OhmyNews, whose motto is «every citizen is a reporter;» 80 percent of their articles are written by freelance contributors. Just last year in Myanmar blogs were the medium for letting the outside world know that an uprising against the dictatorship had begun. When the regime imposed total censorship, bloggers were the only source of information. On the other hand, there have been several occasions when bloggers have been prosecuted for what they have written. An Egyptian blogger, Karim Amer, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment last year for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. In 2006, there were mass arrests in Iran for similar reasons, while in Pakistan, there was a total ban on the use of YouTube. Just last month, the US Pentagon banned access to websites that had links to a blog for air force personnel. In Germany, according to broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the constitutional court recently issued a ruling establishing Internet confidentiality as a new fundamental civil right. In Italy last year, a move to pass a law controlling blogs raised a storm of protest. In Greece, deep ignorance of new technologies led the government in 2002 to pass a law against electronic games of all kinds, leading to the closure of many Internet cafes. International media warned tourists not to play their Game Boys in Greece if they didn’t want to end up in prison and explained that some electronic games are a main component of Internet itself. Greece is 32nd on Reporters without Borders’ list of countries that violate the right to freedom of expression. The main difference between blogs and traditional media is that they create texts that are available forever, «for better or worse,» according to Dan Gillmor in an article in the Guardian on the whistle-blower site Wikileaks, which posted allegedly stolen documents that suggest a Cayman Islands branch of a Swiss bank was helping customers practice money laundering and tax evasion. The bank won a suit in an American court and got the site closed down in the USA but it continued to function elsewhere. Suppressive laws have so far proved incapable of imposing order, which cannot be imposed from the outside, although an exception to that rule are the countries who regularly top the Reporters without Borders list.

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