Reporters Without Borders has carried out a new survey of online freedom of expression for World Day Against Cyber-Censorship on 12 March.
“One in three of the world’s Internet users does not have access to an unrestricted Internet,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Around 60 countries censor the Internet to varying degrees and harass netizens. At least 119 people are currently in prison just for using the Internet to express their views freely. These are disturbing figures.
“The Internet played a crucial role in the recent Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions but more and more governments try to manipulate online information and remove critical content. There is a greater need than ever to defend online free speech and protect cyber-dissidents. This day is also the occasion to pay tribute to the solidarity that Internet users show towards each other.”
Enemies of the Internet
Reporters Without Borders is releasing a 100-page report on the state of online freedom of expression in the 10 countries it has identified as “Enemies of the Internet” and the 16 countries it is keeping “under surveillance” because of their questionable Internet policies. Repressive regimes resort to all sorts of measures to control content, ranging from censorship, jailing cyber-dissidents and circulating massive amounts of propaganda online.
“Tunisia and Egypt have been removed from the list of Enemies of the Internet following the fall of their governments,” Julliard added. “These countries nonetheless remain under surveillance, as does Libya. The gains of these revolutions must be consolidated and the new freedoms must be guaranteed. We have also placed three democracies – Australia, South Korea and France – under surveillance because of various measures they have taken that could have negative consequences for online free expression and Internet access.”
A dedicated website for the campaign (http://12mars.rsf.org/en/)
For World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders has created a dedicated website where Internet users can download a graphic representing the defence of online free expression, view a film made for the occasion by French illustrator Joel Guenoun and consult the map of Internet black holes.
Internet users are urged to circulate this information on social networks, blogs and websites that support imprisoned netizens. They may also use the graphic, which is available in a score of languages (including Chinese, Arabic, Burmese, Turkmen, Farsi and Russian) as an image for their profiles in Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
2010 – Year of the Internet?
Last year saw the Internet and social networks conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning and circulating information. It also saw a growing tendency for traditional and new media to complement each other, as witnessed not only during the Arab Spring but also in the way WikiLeaks released the leaked US diplomatic cables in coordination with several leading international media.
The Internet continues above all to be a tool, one that can be used for good ends and bad. It creates an area of freedom in the most closed countries. Its potential as a tool for circulating news and information angers dictators and renders traditional censorship methods ineffective. The Internet is used not only by dissidents but also by governments, which employ it to circulate their propaganda and to reinforce surveillance and control of the population.
The Internet strategies pursued nowadays by authoritarian regimes consist not so much of outright blocking as online manipulation and propaganda. Countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to filter out vast amounts of content, reinforcing the filtering at times of tension, but Internet users in these countries continue to learn how to circumvent censorship.