The Socio- Communitive Power of Web 2.0 – Blogs, Youtube & Facebook?

9 Dec

Singapore Patriot, on his blog recently commented that the police “are monitoring even the semi-private domain of Facebook” in reference to a letter to the Straits Times in which a Singaporean, Mr Leow, was prevented from entering the “protected area” around Shangri La during the ASEAN summit.

In the letter, the Singapore Police Force said Mr Leow had openly declared his intention to participate in an anti-Myanmar protest at the Shangri-La Hotel on Nov 19 in his Facebook. The posting, according to the police, was accessible to all Facebook users.

Singapore patriot argued that internet users could not have knowledge of the posting since it is impossible for anyone to to see which “groups” a person is subscribed to unless they are his or her “friend”.

Across the causeway, Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent for Straits Times, in “Opposition spills over into Facebook” wrote of the social networking site being used to promote “political dissent” in the country. She mentioned that the organisers of Bersih Rally had created their event notification through Facebook. Photos of the rally were also posted on blogs to dispute what official claims occurred. For example, the government accused protestors of being violent which were counter-argued by bloggers with their online pictures and video.

In July this year, the Malaysian police also summoned Raja Petra Kamaruddin, web publisher of “Malaysia Today” for alleged seditious comments posted by readers on his site.

In the middle east of Syria, the government has used more drastic actions by banning Facebook for its perceived threat to national security – 28,700 members in which 1.5 million people are expected to be using the Internet. Najad Abdullahi reporting for Al Jazeera noted that the website is only one among the more than hundred that has been blocked in the country. The Ministry of Telecommunications and Technology has also issued a public statement asking Syrian web publishers to disclose their identity and to blog in an “accurate and objective” manner.

While the government claimed that Facebook was banned to prevent the “infiltration of Israelis”, Walid Saffour, director of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, believed it is the growth of “virtual civil societies” that the authorities are worried about:

He told Al Jazeera that Facebook was banned because “it provided a platform for the criticism of the government” within Syrian society.

“… There are no independent institutions in Syria – whether social, cultural or political,” says Saffour.

“Syrians are now trying to represent themselves – and they were doing that through Facebook. Those who cannot be activists in the ‘real’ Syria, can be one in a virtual Syria.”

In another Reuters report, Syrian authorities have summoned cyber-activists for their written articles, with some of them being arrested. Even Hotmail has been regularly blocked according to the article. Online newspapers such as the Lebanon based an-Nahar and London based al-Quds al-Arabi, owned by veteran Palestinian journalist Abdel-Bari Atwan are blocked.

Global Voices Online, a non-profit and international media project, founded to focus on Internet’s impact to society, carried a report of responses within Syria on the ban.

Golaniya, a netizen said,

“Who lives in Syria knows that it’s the country of “nothing’s going on” except to hang out in old Damascus’ cafes, but recently there has been a cultural awakening; people are starting to organize their interests in concerts, galleries, conferences, plays, screenings…etc. and Facebook is facilitating the process which is very hard to do in an inactive militarily controlled society. There are no cultural institutions in Syria, no private independent NGOs, no civic institutions, who represent the populations except the government? Syrian Facebookers are trying now to represent themselves. Those who cannot be activists in a “real” Syria can be one in a virtual Syria,”

Alloush blog explained,

“Facebook in Syria isn’t that famous. Its distribution is very limited to the extent that many of those familiar with the Internet don’t understand what the site is about…

Soon, Google may be banned and with that the Internet in Syria will be an internal system only… Blocking access to such sites which are rich in information causes damage to Syrians. First of all, they are a slap against the free promotion of Syria and secondly, they deny Syrians access to services which are available for people around the world. I hope those responsible for this policy would reconsider their censorship policies.”

Blocking online websites such as Facebook is nothing new considering that the Chinese government has been filtering its online search engines to prevent its citizens from googling controversial views such as the ban and its ill-treatment on Falungong members. Internet users in cybercafes have to disclose their identity with their online activities monitored.

However, be it in China, Malaysia, Singapore or Syria, these authoritarian governments are facing an uphill task when it comes to curbing online socio- political dissent.

A blanket ban on political websites and social networking sites such as Facebook will reveal its fear of dissent and can be bypassed if user is capable of the technology to do so. Photos and video postings of the large scale protests in Burma earlier this year proved that such efforts are marginally and increasingly more difficult to manipulate.

===

References

1. Big Brother policing Facebook, Singapore Patriot, Dec 6, 2007.

2. Opposition spills over into Facebook, Straits Times, Malaysia, Hazlin Hassan, Dec 6, 2007.

2. KL cops grill website operator over ‘seditious postings’, Straits Times, Malaysia, Chow Kum Hor, July 26, 2007.

3. Censorship in cyberspace, Al Jazeera, Najad Abdullahi, November 28, 2007

4. Syria blocks Facebook in Internet crackdown, Reuters, Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Nov 23, 2007.

5. Syria: Facebook Banned, Global Voices Online, Amira Al Hussaini, Nov 19, 2007

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