Research Paper: Internet and Democracy

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[. . .] 15). All throughout the 20th Century, there was a pervasive sense that society was controlled by managers, experts and technicians over whom the individual had no control, and the new technology has made these elites seem even more distant and omnipotent. Even among many computer professionals, there has been a growing fear of the potential for using the new technologies for repression and control, and indeed this happens every day in countries like Iran and China (Agre 1997, p. 10).

Repressive Regimes and Facebook Revolutions

News spreads more rapidly than ever before via cable, satellite and Internet, and anyone with a cell phone could become an instant amateur journalist. Even highly repressive societies like China, Iran and Egypt could not completely control this new medium, although during every surge of revolutionary activity the first targets of repressive regimes was always the Internet and wireless communications -- along with foreign reporters. Cyber-democracy truly came into its own during the recent Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, particularly among young, technically savvy protesters. Even in relatively poor nations, pro-democracy rebels were able to take advantage of the communications networks in the big cities to organize revolution at the grassroots levels (Tsagarousianou 1998). Political parties, NGOs, and labor organizations now use these technologies routinely, and in Egypt and Tunisia, leaders of the new high tech industries also became revolutionary political organizations, while journalists from the Internet and satellite news networks openly took sides with the pro-democracy movements.

Even if the new technologies to not fundamentally change social and economic structures, they had certainly come into their own by 2011, and proven their usefulness as an organizing tool that had the potential to bring down authoritarian regimes very quickly. When the Internet began, "the first cybernauts certainly expected that virtual communications spaces would be exempt from state interference" but this has definitely not turned out to be the case (Hamelink, 2000, p. 140). Pervasive Internet censorship in the norm in countries that still have totalitarian regimes of the Left and Right such as China, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Cuba and Vietnam (Zuchova-Walske, 2010, p. 101). China and Iran also stand out as having "the most sophisticated state-mandated filtering systems in the world" (Khiabany and Sreberny, 2009, p. 208.)

China has 330 million Internet users and 70 million bloggers, but also one of the most stringent systems of Internet censorship in the world, with 30-40 people serving prison sentences for writing about politically sensitive topics online. China always claims that censorship is "necessary for social stability" and to block pornography and other "harmful content," and rejects all foreign criticism as "interference in China's domestic affairs" (Figliola, 2010, p. 4). Censorship of the Internet began as early as 1996, when the government banned the websites of the Tibet Information Network, Playboy, most U.S. newspapers and nearly 100 others. It also required all Internet users to register with the state and "sign a declaration that they will not visit forbidden sites" (Hamelink, p. 141). Since President Hu Jintao came to power in 2003, censorship has been increasing along with "a steady crackdown on the Internet." The Chinese government employs tens of thousands of people to monitor and censor the Internet, overseen by the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), the State Council Information Office and the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department (MacKinnon, 2006, p. 3). These agencies use website blocking and keyword filtering, actively monitors Internet cafes, ISP providers, university bulletin boards, and requires all websites and blogs to be registered, which "creates an undercurrent of fear and promotes self-censorship." The government also hires thousands of writers to create websites and blogs for its own propaganda purposes (Figliola, p. 5). All nine Internet Access Providers (IAPs) are licensed by the state, and the hardware and software to block content and keywords is configured directly into the Chinese Internet down to the router level (MacKinnon, p. 10). All Internet Content Providers (ICPs) are licensed and registered by the state as well, and must agree in writing to block or censor content to which the government objects (MacKinnon, p. 12). Search engines are also designed to filter out certain keywords and have blacklists of forbidden websites (MacKinnon, p. 13). Chinese journalists use foreign websites for information on major news stories, even those these are censored and difficult to access, and are very "skilled" at using proxy servers (Yu, 2009, p. 183n).

U.S. companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo cooperate with censorship in China rather than risk alienating the government in such a lucrative market. Yahoo has provided email addresses of account holders to the Chinese authorities that resulted in political dissidents being sent to prison, while Microsoft has shut down blogs and blocked words like "democracy" from MSN Spaces (Figliola, p. 6). Google has the second-largest search engine in China after the Chinese company Baidu, and cooperates with censorship by posting messages on websites indicating that they have been blocked due to "local laws, regulations, and policies." On the other hand, it moved its search records out of the country in 2006 and does not host Gmail and Blogger services there. Cisco Systems, Nortel and Juniper Networks have all sold infrastructure to China to facilitate filtering, surveillance and monitoring of the Internet (Figliola, p. 7). In 2009 the Chinese government ordered Green Dam Youth Escort software installed on all computers allegedly to block pornography and other "harmful content," but massive protests at home and abroad prevented this (Figlioa, p. 8).

Iran has 23 million Internet users and a very active blogosphere, and the regime also uses the Internet as a tool to spread its own propaganda from a Right-wing Islamic point-of-view, and also controls 'official' Internet cafes. There are "regular crackdowns" on all other Internet cafes, as well as arrests of users, bloggers and web journalists (Khiabany and Sreberny, p. 207). In 2003 alone, the regime blocked over 15,000 websites, which is possible in Iran because the Internet is a state monopoly under the supervision of the Ministry of Post, Telephone and Telegraph and the Ministry of Intelligence. All online communications and content is monitored by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and all websites receive prior approval from The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Figliola, p. 10). ISPs companies are not allowed to exist without their approval, and no one is allowed to publish any content that is critical of the state, the Ayatollah Khomeini's teachings, Islam, Islamic values or that denies the existence of God. In addition, promoting "luxury" is against the law, as is disclosure of "information," any acts against the "security of the country" and "religiously forbidden articles and pictures." Each province of the country has a committee that regulates all Internet cafes and gathers information on websites considered to be immoral, pornographic or hostile to the regime (Khiabany and Sreberny, p. 209).

As in China, all ISP companies and internet cafes are required to adhere to these rules, and censor or block forbidden sites and content. In addition, the government constantly attempts to close all ports through which Internet users attempt to evade the censorship and filtering system, which is also able to block or shut down proxy all proxy servers. In Iran, prepaid phone cards are also programmed in such a way that their users are unable to search for certain terms on the Internet, such as "sex" and even "women." The government also deliberately keeps the speed of the Internet slow for households and public access users so as to be better able to monitor and control it -- the only country in the world to do so (Khiabany and Sreberny, p. 210). Just like in China, bloggers and Internet users in Iran are constantly setting up new websites "as soon as the old ones are shut down," while www.stop.censoring.us "provides reliable 'official and unofficial accounts on Internet censorship in Iran" (Alavi, 2005, p. 343). In the 2009 election, the Internet proved to be such an effective tool in monitoring and reporting on fraud that the regime was simply forced to shut down all telecommunications and satellite links in the country, and arrest or expel any journalists who attempted to report the unofficial version of the election news.

According to international law, universal human rights do exist, as outlined in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the Covenants on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights and Civil and Political Rights of 1976 (Hamelink, p. 61). Even though these are often honored in the breach, if they did not have at least some universal validity then representatives of non-Western nations would hardly have agreed to them. These international agreements were codified long before the age of the Internet and cyberspace, the censorship of these of the type that occurs every day in countries like Iran and China is a violation of human… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Internet and Democracy.  (2011, May 13).  Retrieved April 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/internet-democracy-one/6108848

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"Internet and Democracy."  Essaytown.com.  May 13, 2011.  Accessed April 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/internet-democracy-one/6108848.