The uprisings in throughout the Middle East and Europe have demonstrated the power of the internet and social networking sites as tools for organizing against the state. It is because of their efficacy that these information sharing technologies have been suppressed by entrenched powers.
But does the cloud of internet censorship offer a silver lining?
Focusing on the CLOUD, G. Greenwald notes how the powers-that-be are making moves to seize control and snuff out the potential of these tools to disrupt the prevailing social order. The censorship for which the West has “long righteously denounced China” and “vocally condemned Arab regimes” is steadily being adopted in the U.S. and Europe as a knee-jerk response to any challenge to and hint of social upheaval or mass action.
After the riots in London, for example, “the instant reaction of Prime Minister David Cameron was a scheme to force telecoms to allow his government the power to limit the use of Internet and social networking sites.” This, in conjunction with an campaign to lock people up for “inciting disorder” on facebook — these two guys were given four year sentences.
And more recently in San Fransisco, during a protest of yet another subway station killing at the hands of the out-of-control BART cops, “city officials shut down underground cell phone service entirely for hours“.
These episodes take place in an environment of aggressive prosecutions against all type of free-information activists such as Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, Anonymous, Aaron Swartz and others. At the same time, legislators are proposing bills to make it easier for the government to spy on the online activities of its citizens. (See also this.)
But at least one target of this cloud of censorship likes to stress its SILVER LINING. In an interview I posted about recently between the Wikileaks founder and philosopher Slavoj Zizek, Assange pointed out that although the sudden rise of such “McCarthyist hysteria” is worrying, nevertheless such official responses and attempts at censorship are in fact a “positive sign”:
Power that is completely unaccountable is silent. You know when you walk past a group of ants and you accidentally crush a few? You do not turn to the others and say “stop complaining” or I’ll put a drone strike on your head — you completely ignore them.
And that is what happens to power that is in a very dominant position. It does not even bother to respond — it doesn’t flinch for an instant. And yet we saw all these figures in the United States coming out and speaking very aggressively…
We should always see censorship, actually, as a very positive sign. And the attempts toward censorship as a sign that the society is not yet completely sewn up, not yet completely fiscalised, but still has some political dimension to it, i.e. what people believe and think and feel and the words that they listen to actually matter. Because in some areas it doesn’t matter. And in the United States, actually, most of the time, it doesn’t matter what you say. We managed to speak and give information at such volume and at such intensity that people actually were forced to respond. It is rare that they are forced to respond. So I think this is one of the first positive symptoms I’ve seen from the United States in a while. That actually if you speak at this level, the cage can be rattled a bit, and people can be forced to respond.
In China, the censorship is much more aggressive, which to me is a very hopeful symptom of China, that it is still a political society even though it is fiscalizing, even though everything is being sewn up in contractual relationships and banking relationships as time has gone by. At the moment, the Chinese government and Public Security Bureau are actually scared of what people think.