The Internet power and the mind of online oppressors
The session on emerging online threats to journalists on day 1 was an eye opener to members of the IFEX network. This is especially that it brought to the fore a number of emerging threats targeted at bloggers, journalists and Internet users. To give prominence to the power of the Internet and how it has provoked a backlash against online reporting from repressive states and organized crime, Danny O’Brien led the session and unpacked a number of case studies on censorship, surveillance, cybercrime against journalists, and the defenses available.
As a journalist and media freedom activist, I found it enriching to listen to experts from Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries narrating how the Internet has being used to impact change in those country. Surely, this is evidence enough to show that the internet and new media has brought a shaper focus on the quicker way of freedom of expression and how it can be used to impact social change in the lives of people.
It can as well be agued from a democratic point of view that with all these new modes of communication it is imperative for everyone to use them to speak our minds on issues affecting our lives. If people fail to grab such opportunities and freely express themselves, surely it means in one way or the other, their opinions and ideas would have being kept behind bars. At least, gone are the days that policy makers could feast on public resources with impunity while the grass roots are languishing in poverty, with barely anything to quench their silence.
Now, with the emerging usage of technology through new media and social networks to break their silence, people from one end of the world to the other can stand together and use a common gun dubbed “Voice Weapon” to break loose any detractor on their way.
I am also tempted to believe that, after the overthrow of dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt, followed by the uprising in the Middle East, many such like-minded dictators might have turned around and declared a curse on the inventors of Internet technology. Oooops, believe it or not, to them keeping the people silent was a best choice of keeping themselves and their thrones aloft for ages. Certainly this might be the reason why Moammar Gaddafi once invited all kings in Africa to Tripoli to confer upon him a crown of king of Kings, a title only rendered to God. Wow, just wondering! Surely this is insanity, and I guess his hold to power might have darkened his thoughts and made him fail to blink to the reality that only God could rule forever.
Anyway, I do not have anything personal against Gaddafi, but I am thrilled to notice that the revolution in the Arab world has shaken the comfort zones of many dictators around the world. Many would agree with me that the arrest of protesters and activist in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Uganda, and Angola bear testimony to this.
Freedom of expression through the use of new media, social networks, and blogs are real proof that words can change the world indeed. Instead of spending money to buy expensive weapon of mass destruction to dethrone valiant dictators, to journalists it has become ideal that one would rather buy a computer or a phone. These technological tools have become the means for the voiceless to voice their idea.
These means must therefore be protected to allow for the free flow of information among societies. However, one thing that seemed a lot more disturbing was to listen participants and facilitators unpacked practical examples on the tools used by online oppressors to suppress free expression. From the session, it was evident that these oppressors are adamant to use any tool through web blocking, precision censorship, denial of access to internet infrastructures, attacks on exile-run sites, malware attacks, state cybercrime, internet kill switches, detention against bloggers and instituting violence against online journalists.
Therefore, given the importance of information sharing, it would be vital for people from across the world to unity and fight against these crimes against freedom of expression.