IT and politics

Text-Messaging as State Repression

Jun 19 '09

bq. In the latest twist on Internet repression, governments don’t just censor, they scare. Last week, for example, the Chinese government broadcast a text message to cell-phone users in Lhasa, Tibet, where Beijing has cracked down on protests in recent weeks. The message demanded that users “obey the law” and “follow the rules,” and no protester could have mistaken the meaning, or the messenger. If the government also managed to terrify even quiet, apolitical citizens, Chinese and Tibetan—well, so be it. Repression 2.0 is not a precise technology.

That’s from this Newsweek article, published over a year ago. Here’s another interesting passage:

bq. According to Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, some nations like Zimbabwe even deploy security agents—or people who act like them—to wander the aisles at cafés, glancing at screens. At the same time, digital records of which sites patrons visit are squirreled away for eternity in official databases. Today, Chinese café patrons would be taking a big risk searching “Tibet and crackdown,” and they know it.

New media and communication technologies be used for good or bad ends by ordinary citizens, as I noted earlier. But they can also be used for good or bad ends by states. These technologies may not have have a net democratizing effect in authoritarian political systems.

The China Digital Times is another resource on new media in China. (Thanks to Bruce Dickson for this reference.)