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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny 513

An anonymous reader writes "Joshua Kurlantzick of the New Republic online writes that the internet--once heralded as a revolutionary force in politics--has turned out to be surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force. Maybe this is not such a good idea?"
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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny

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  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:32PM (#8689885)
    BBC News broadcasts are also distributed by many public television stations in the USA and also on the BBC America cable channel.
  • by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:18PM (#8690483) Homepage
    > Blame the router manufacturers.

    If I take 4 drums of fuel oil and 2,000 lbs of ammonium nitrate I can plant 100 acres of corn with a tractor or build a car bomb. If I choose the latter it's the fault of the oil and fertilizer companies? I don't think so.

    These are disanalogous situations. A more analgous situation would be, you buy the fuel oil an fertilizer, and the feedstore says, "Here's your free bomb making instruction manual. Wait, you're building it wrong. Here, let me show you... See how easy that was? Oh you want it placed under the building across town? Sure, we can deliver it for you. Here you go. Just press that button, and you're all set. Just remember, though, we're not responsible."

    The companies are in violation of the U.N. Human Rights Norm for Business (August 2003), which states, "enterprises shall refrain from any activity which supports, solicits, or encourages States or any other entities to abuse human rights. They shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights". They know when they sold the router/filter/firewall system whether or not it was going to be used to route intracompany emails or be part of the Great Firewall of China (or whatever country). The technical specs requested by the Ministry of Internal Security tell them that.

    While Cicso and the rest may not be actively imprisioning dissidents, they are knowingly enabling the totalitarian regimes to do so. That makes them an accessory to their crimes. Additionally one could make the argument that Cicso and the rest are in conflict with policies of the United States (and no doubt other democratic nations) when they provide goods and services that are actively used to counter the pro-democracy programs the United States (and other democratic nations).

  • by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:12PM (#8690813)
    Sorry but your analogy is even worse, I'm trying to recide if you're joking.

    Cisco does not change their product for China, they sell the same product to everybody, they provide all the same resources to everybody. If someone runs me over with their car intentionally then I cannot sue the car manufacturer nor should I be able to, they have no control over how their consumers will use the product. Just like cd burner manufacturers. Many people use their products legitimately and many do not, they should not be held liable.

    Ultimately blame lays in the most direct path unless their is collusion involved.
  • Pen beats sword (Score:3, Informative)

    by Phronesis ( 175966 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @06:56PM (#8691493)
    Gandhi used the pen and other modes of nonviolent persuasion, while the British used machine guns against unarmed protestors. Who won?

    We hear lots about armed resistance against the Nazis, but few people write about things like the time 6000 women picketed the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin in 1943 and got the Nazis to release their Jewish husbands, or the fact that nonviolent confrontation of the Nazis by the Danes saved the lives of almost all the Danish Jews. This was far more effective than violent resistance, such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

    And unarmed suasion by Martin Luther King and others did more than the violent tactics of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver to obtain civil rights for black Americans.

    Perhaps most impressively, we look at the fall of the Shah of Iran. In 1978, the Shah had the largest military force in the middle east (715,000 men, 2500 tanks, 450 major fixed-wing combat aircraft) but was unable to hold power in the face of unarmed fundamentalist revolutionaries.

  • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:4, Informative)

    by rynthetyn ( 618982 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:41AM (#8694062) Journal
    It's not the first time a columnist missed the reasons for change. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a book about globalization, where he attributed the peaceful revolution in Serbia to a desire to participate in the global marketplace and the feeling that Slobodan Milosevic was holding them back (he gives a ridiculous example about people wanting to be able to afford frequent visits to McDonalds, and apparently doesn't realize that the reason that they can't afford to eat there is because it's ridiculously overpriced). I have e-mail contacts in Belgrade, and those people participated in the demonstrations that led to the peaceful overthrow of the government. They didn't take to the streets because they wanted McDonalds, they took to the streets because they wanted freedom to walk down the street without being harassed by police cracking down on dissidents, because they wanted to speak freely, to be able to write e-mail without worrying about it being monitored, and the straw that broke the camel's back was when everyone knew Milosevic lost the election but he claimed he won and he wouldn't leave (before anyone makes a crack about Bush in 2000, the student in Belgrade that my sister writes to associated Gore with Slobo refusing to admit defeat and said "when that happened here, we had a revolution"). I don't know what kind of direct role the internet had in the revolution, but indirectly, it did play a role, if only because it opened up avenues to interact with the rest of the world and thus served as a way to counteract the extreme form of nationalism, us-against-everyone mentality that the government used as a means of control.

    Any channel of communication that takes place away from the oversight of a police state can help topple tyranny. Several years ago, the government of the Phillipines was toppled largely through the use of cell phone text messaging informing people of when a demonstration would be held--the revolutionary equivalent of a flash mob.

    It's not the internet itself, or any particular website that will help topple tyranny, but any tool that increases the flow and volume of information is going to hurt tyrants.
  • by Angry Pixie ( 673895 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:57AM (#8694704) Journal

    When I attempted to access the Web pages of exile groups opposed to the authoritarian Vientiane regime, I received an error message saying the pages were not accessible. My experience in the Vientiane cafe was a sobering antidote to a pervasive myth: that the Internet is a powerful force for democracy.

    Disclaimer: I'm a part of this significant subset of the democratization industry that Kurlantzick mentioned. Kurlantzick is sadden by the inability of the Internet to topple regimes. Note that by Internet he means the World Wide Web and that he seriously anticipated the Internet to empower the meek and downtrodden with the weapons and ammunition needed to stage revolutions that will remove tyrants.

    The Internet is a powerful force for democracy because the Internet is an enabler of open communication. It is just like a radio, a television, or a newspaper - all three of which have ignited flames of revolt all throughout history. The ability to voice one's opinion as well as one's oppression is a prerequisite to the democrazation of any social or political system. Now obviously a government can hinder the effectiveness of the Internet. China did this with Google. We did it with Early Bird. Cultures can also handicap the effectiveness of the Internet.

    True story. A North African Muslim couple come to the US to study Information Systems. They catch the entrepreneurial spirit and decide to open an ISP in their home country upon returning home. A couple of years later they return to the US, having not started that ISP. Their reason was that their society was very fundamentalist Islamic despite a few liberal pockets. By starting an ISP, they would expose their customers to culturally and religiously offensive material such as women's casualware listings or Saks Fifth Avenue's pantyhose and shoe catalog. The couple feared a death sentence for bringing in what was considered locally, smut and porn.

    This is one specific example of how the effectiveness of the Internet can be limited. However, the Internet has had more success in other places such as the former Yugoslavia. IIT's Project Kosovo and Project Bosnia [] have successfully used the Internet as a way of documenting war crimes and atrocities and getting the word out to the international community. Democratization efforts depend on getting information flowing. We need to get people talking. We need to start hearing more stories first-hand. The Internet hasn't been used seriously as an instrument for social change until the late 1990s, so results will take time. The ultimate goal is for the Internet to serve as conduit that permits a free exchange of ideas, and that through that exchange help can be given and lives can be improved.

    The Internet has an even more important role today than envisioned years ago. Many people are frightened of sharing their political and social opinions in public out of fear of retribution by the authorities. The Internet a vital means for learning the issues from multiple perspectives and for engaging in healthy political debate. At this very moment, tech savvy groups like eToy [] are engaging in electronic hacktivsm, making people aware of issues that they won't hear about on corporate-controlled news channels. Even now in the US, the safest place to protest is not the free speech zones [] approved by the government but private chatrooms and blogs. []

    While it's true that the Internet has proved itself able to disseminate pop culture in authoritarian nations--not only Laos, but China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere--to date, its political impact has been decidedly limited.

    This is opinion. I've spoken with many forei

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