February 16, 2006

Global Internet Freedom Task Force, China Net Censorship, etc.

Censorware's in the news every day now it seems, from NYT on China Censorship hearings to the announcement of a "Global Internet Freedom Task Force":

Washington --An informed citizenry is one of the greatest forces for global peace and stability, said Josette Shiner, under secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, at a State Department briefing February 14 announcing the formation of the Global Internet Freedom Task Force.

"It's a top priority for the State Department and the U.S. government to do all we can to ensure maximum access to information over the Internet and to assure minimum success by censors," Shiner said.

The task force will make recommendations to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on policy and diplomatic initiatives, Shiner said.

As a segue from recent gatekeeper discussion, note how blogging is utterly and completely useless for anti-censorship activism. If the goal is to reach people, squeaking from the tail doesn't work. In fact, one often overlooked point is that for activism, blogging can be counter-productive, since energy might be wasted preaching to the choir, inside an echo chamber.

Another evangelism argument is that you never know who is reading, tempting z-listers with the delusion that someone like the President or the Pope might be secret fans. Well, I'm reasonably sure the government of China is not reading my blog (or, if someone there is in fact doing so it's for "opposition research", which is something that is not often mentioned in blog evangelism).

That leaves reaching specialists. But there are plenty of ways to communicate with such people, that don't constitute the grind and downsides of a blog. Sure, somebody who has a lot of power already can make it work. But the (attention-)rich are different from you and me (they have more links).

So, back to Net censorship, What Is To Be Done?. I keep reminding myself that there's much consciousness-raising going on, which is good. And that my perspective, as a bitter pioneer with many arrows in his back, is not typical.

I agree with much of EFF's proposals, notably:

Free governments benefit from sponsoring anti-censorship and anonymizing software, such as those supported by the United States' International Broadcasting Bureau. But companies, too, stand to gain from investing in development that might lead to an opening of previously closed societies. If U.S. companies find that oppressive governments block or impede their Internet services, they should not simply give in to the threat. By working together on ways to surmount Internet control they will not only be providing wanted new products to 1.3 billion new customers, they will help open trade and communications between all countries, and all citizens.

Shorter version: Money (i.e. for "sponsoring anti-censorship and anonymizing software"). If none if it appears, there's nothing beyond posturing.

I keep wondering when there'll be an announcement from Harvard that they've got a grant of a million or two to produce a (say this in a singsong voice) study and recommendation for a policy paper on Internet governance and the challenges of censorship in the cyberspace age. If that happens, you heard it here first :-)

By the way, please don't suggest I chase after a piece of the so-far-nonexistent funding pie. Given all the better-connected organizations, and existing projects, it's not for me. Though if someone wants to put me on their "advisory board" in return for stock options, I'm available! :-)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on February 16, 2006 08:42 AM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Chirp chirp.

Posted by: Cricket at February 19, 2006 03:25 AM

I agree--blogging is useless for activism in general, I'd say. Changing people's minds tends to mean hitting the pavement, a lot. I used to write a newspaper column which was read far, far more widely than anything I'll ever write online. I sometimes wrote about activism, but I tried--and try--not to confuse writing about it with doing it.

Posted by: Laura at February 19, 2006 10:40 PM