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Two more sessions gone, on citizen media and online free speech, and living with censorship. 12 speakers from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, discussing Internet blockage, and the persistent pressure and demoralization that comes with continuing struggle with authority. Rather than list each (herds of bloggers doing this right in front of me), I’ll pull together some common threads:
Andrew Heavens on the death of the Ethiopian blogosphere. Censorship is more than being silenced, but personal attack to limit, silence, and entrap, to encourage self-censorship. Solutions more than just technical or legal, but cultural and social.
Au Wai Pang on Singapore. Psychology trumps technology. From the perspective of free speech taking root in society, what causes a change in psychology? What would you do if you live in a society whereby for all of free speech, people aren’t interested. How do you motivate people?
Razan on imprisonment of Syrian blogger Tariq Baiasi, and the failure of the FreeTariq campaign. Concepts of activism, volunteerism, freedom of speech are not well-defined, and have no empirical meaning in contemporary Syria. Campaign proposed actions without explaining why they were wrong, but this was not understood. This ties into social and self-censorship. Issue is not just what, but how we speak, or live. Censorship is social before it’s political.
Ory Okollah of Kenya on covering the violence after the 2008 Kenyan elections. I had to moderate comments. There was a lot of hate speech going on, really nasty stuff. Afterwards, people saw blogs as a tool that propagates hate. So the good work people were doing got lost in all the negative language. It’s free speech, so people can write what they want, but at some point in a highly charged context, it becomes too much.
Point, over and over, is that the practice of blogging should never be considered in a vacuum; that it’s all tied into contexts and communities, and has relevance, life because of that. My preference would be to get rid of the term. A blog is just a template that lays out writing after all. Call it writing instead and the idea that it’s separate from context leaks away.
I’ve got the pleasure of spending a couple of days in Budapest at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit. I’m taking notes, but sloth being my favorite deadly sin, I’m only sometimes managing to get my notes online. Today is the first day of the open conference, and the focus of the day is online anti-censorship, online free speech, activism, and circumventions tools. This being a blogger conference, it’s being liveblogged by about half the audience, most of which you can find if you follow the gvsummit08 tag, and there’s also a videostream. So I’m part of the panopticon effect in this rather stuffy room filled with tapping fingers.
the first session of the day is titled “Toward an Anti-censorship network,” with speakers from Belarus, Japan, Egypt, and Pakistan. A group of brave people who have been arrested or in exile for freedom of expression issues. What I’m really noticing, however, is that this conversation is very similar to that which takes place in the journalism and freedom of expression communities, but the point of reference here is for some reason primarily human rights activism. For instance, the Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah showed three films posted online of torture, illegal anti-Mubarak protests, and allegedly illegal dumping by a petrochemical company. Fatah makes the important point that the cause of a free internet in Egypt and freedom of expression is part of a larger struggle for democratic rights. On the other hand, there’s a sort of naivete in the trope of veracity about films such as these – about assumptions of being outside the law, or about the idea that amateur video is definitely genuine. Not to imply that it’s not, but just that it could be challenged in any kind of legal context.