- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2005

It had to happen. There is now a serious site, well-written and carefully thought out, on how to use blogs to circumvent totalitarian governments that do not allow the dissemination of news they don’t like.

The site is Reporters Without Borders (RWB) (https://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=542) available in English, French, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish, in both html and pdf formats. It’s worth a look.

Why, you ask? Who cares? A lot of people living under despotism care. Not to mention the despots themselves.

“Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. One thing’s for sure: they’re rocking the foundations of the media in countries as different as the United States, China and Iran,” says the introduction to the site.

And, more to the point, “Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media are censored or under pressure.” Hype? A bit, perhaps. But I was recently in China and, if you typed Democracy in China into the search engine, you got a blank screen.

A lot of countries are seriously afraid of the Internet. They definitely repress dissent on the Web and will jail the dissenters. It is easy to control newspapers because you know where their offices are. The Internet is far harder to control In some places, bloggers really are indeed as a source of news. They go where the foreign press can’t, and see things that the controlled local media can’t write about. If they see fifty people shot by security forces, and get a photo with a cell phone camera, they can show it to the entire world on a blog. It isn’t trivial. Which is why it can be bad to get caught.

Now, what’s a “blog”? No precise definition exists. The word is a contraction of “Web log,” and roughly means a personal Web site, usually created using downloadable blogging software, that makes it easy to post news, photos, even video and sound clips, as well as let other people post responses. RWB explains all of this in detail.

The RWB booklet (again, downloadable) is practical in its approach. For example, it has chapters on how to blog anonymously, technical ways to get around censorship and ensure that your e-mail is truly private.

It goes through various ways to keep from being traced, and the flaws in each of these approaches. In the case of using anonymous proxies, which it explains, it tells you how to find suitable proxies and how to get up and running.

Perhaps most interesting to anyone who isn’t planning to set up an anonymous blog is the section Internet Censor World Championship, listing the nations that are most repressive of the Web, and just what they do.

The nations in order are China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. The politically observant might observe that all are either communist or Islamic. China, says RWB, is the champion censor because it is not just repressive but technically competent, and has the economic clout to strong-arm Western companies into going along.

A disturbing point made by RWB is that China has acquired the gear and know-how to engage in censorship so effectively from American companies, as for example Cisco Systems Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

Where is it going? My guess is that a technically astute government, willing to impose harsh penalties, can pretty much shut down hostile blogging. Maybe not. The Internet isn’t real predictable.


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