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Censorship Threats for the Internet

And we're in the closing plenary of ICA 2010, which (appropriately for a conference in Singapore, perhaps) deals with the impact of new media on censorship. Censorship approaches and technologies in the Asia-Pacific region vary widely, of course, as plenary chair Cherian George notes (from brute force to sophisticated social sanctioning).

Ang Peng Hwa is the first of the plenary speakers, and he begins by stating that the rise of Internet censorship in Asia was inevitable. Contrary to previous claims, the Internet can be censored - for example, by blocking particular IP addresses; further, the control of authoritative root services online is in the hands of ICANN, and ICANN itself is far from independent from government influence, but instead is subject to substantial US government control. As one example, Peng Hwa notes the arrest of the then holders of the .iq country-code top-level domain in December 2002, some months before the US operation Iraqi Freedom, leading to a change of control over .iq - hence, there is an urgent need to look more closely at Internet governance.

The Collective Individualism of Activist Bloggers in Singapore

We're moving rapidly towards the conclusion of this ICA 2010 conference. The next session I'm attending starts with a paper by Carol Soon, whose interest is in activist bloggers. She notes the rise of net-activisim and transnational social movements. While the genesis of blogging lies in personal gratification, blogs also have a transformative power and can lead to greater civic engagement, by disseminating information and facilitating information exchange.

Previous studies have examined both bloggers' uses and gratifications as well as the hyperlinking and network structure of blogs and blogging; Carol's study adds to this by exploring the collective identity of Singapore activist bloggers and its role in engendering social action. Is there a tension betwen the individual and the collective?

Hong Kong Protest Movements and the Internet

Hong Kong.
Finally, we move on to Francis Lee as the last speaker on this second day of The Internet Turning 40. He notes that a few weeks ago, some 150,000 people commemorated the Tian An Men massacre in Hong Kong, and other public rallies are now also becoming commonplace - more and more people are now prepared to participate in such demonstrations. Mainstream media, interpersonal connections, and online media are combining to enable such activities; Hong Kong is becoming 'a proper society'.

What role does the Internet play in this, then? The Internet is used as a means of coordination and mobilisation, as a means of facilitating the formation of movement networks, as a platform for collective or individualised protest actions, and as a channel for persuasive messages and information. For social movements in the online information environment, the Net can be considered as an alternative medium, enabling them to bypass the mass media and transmit oppositional views; also, compared to conventional media, people are less likely to be exposed to discordant views and messages, and a form of self-reinforcing groupthink can develop, particularly with the move towards Web 2.0. This facilitates a heightened audience selectivity.

The Victory of Chinese Netizens over the Green Dam Filter

Hong Kong.
We move on to Hu Yong as the next speaker at The Internet Turning 40, who highlights the anti-Green Dam movement in China which opposes Internet censorship. In June 2009, the Chinese government introduced regulation that from 1 July that year, it required each new computer to have the 'Green Dam Youth Escort' filtering software pre-installed, which would filter specific 'unhealthy' - pornographic - Websites and information (previously it had been thought that this software was only required for school computers).

Testing the Boundaries of Singaporean Governance through Civil Disobedience

Hong Kong.
The first speaker in the post-lunch session this second day of The Internet Turning 40 is Cherian George, who begins with the story of a Singaporean dissident, the former lawyer Gopalan Nair, who has been a staunch (even rabid, Cherian says) critic of Lee Kuan Yew and his - or now, his son's - government. In a blog post, Nair has openly acknowledged the fact that he has defamed Lee, gave his full address and contact details, and dared the police to arrest him - which they did. He was quite literally asking for trouble.

The Global Financial Crisis as Opportunity for Resistance

Hong Kong.
The final speaker in this session at The Internet Turning 40 is Jack Qiu, who highlights the impact of the current financial crisis (in a study focussing on China and South Korea) and begins by playing a melody originally created to commemorate the Kwangju massacre in Korea which has now been repurposed as a kind of pan-Asian "Internationale" (and was performed in this version by the New Labour Art Troupe, a migrant workers orchestra in China which has released three CDs so far and also published its music online under a Creative Commons licence).

Surveillance and Society

Hong Kong.
The next session at The Internet Turning 40 starts with a presentation by David Lyon, on surveillance technologies. He begins by noting a recent Simpsons episode that addressed surveillance (usually a sure sign that this is now an issue of popular discussion) and portrayed subversive resistance against such technologies. Surveillance has been concerned traditionally with visual observation, but this is now only the tip of the iceberg; additionally, today it is no longer only government institutions which engage in surveillance, and this is reducing the amount of physical or informational space which still remains surveillance-free.

What Makes Chinese College Students Support Censorship of Pornography?

Hong Kong.
The third paper in this post-lunch session at The Internet Turning 40 is Ran Wei, and examines third-person effects on support for restrictions of Internet pornography amongst college students in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Shanghai has some 19 million residents, some 11 million of whom are Internet users; their Internet use is governed by Chinese government prohibitions of undesirable content. By contrast, Hong Kong with its seven million inhabitants has greater press freedoms, and online pornography is readily available.

Beyond the Public Sphere and Public Service Institutions

Hong Kong.
The next speaker at The Internet Turning 40 is Frank Webster, who shifts our focus from taking stock of existing research areas to exploring the future; his interest is in the future of the public sphere in the age of the Internet. He notes the existence of a Social Democratic consensus (certainly in Europe) that it is necessary for state agencies to intervene in the informational realm, because the market alone cannot be trusted to provide for an informed citizenry and is complicated by the growth of PR and corporate lobbying. So, state intervention aims to provide adequate information to the public, to ensure that democracy works effectively. This is legitimated by the concept of the public sphere, which is served by public service institutions.

Political Blogs and Transparency

The second speaker in this EDEM 2010 session is Evgeniya Boklage, whose interest is in the impact of the political blogosphere on communicative transparency. Transparency is crucial for interpersonal communication; it is an existential prerequisite for deliberative processes, too. If we consider the public sphere as a communicative system, the key functions are transparency (input), validation (throughput), and orientation (output), and Evgeniya focusses on the first of these here.


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