Re-posts: Activism 2.0 (May 2017)
Hello! This is a series in which I re-upload a number of selected writing assignments I’ve done during my university years to both share them with the world (after some edits here and there, of course) and archive some of my most memorable ones. Enjoy.
With Facebook, Line, and Instagram at the top of the most used social media in Thailand, it is safe to assume that the Thai people do like publishing, enjoying the near-infinite stream of informal information. Cat videos, foodie pictures, series are broadcasted through Netflix, social media-based clothing retailing, the latest pop music is uploaded onto YouTube, books are sold on Amazon, the beautiful image of the Internet is almost an impossible one to avoid because we, as a people of the world are utilizing this enormous network for the benefits of our own and for good reasons. Information is essential to societies and so do the channels of it which the Internet technology provides in abundance. Through the digital mass media interactivity, the contribution of content and control goes both ways in contrast to the old media such as televised programs or radio broadcasting, and in participation, the Internet is made to serve the citizens’ interests. In this essay, the matters of Internet activism, significant protests which were started because of the information distributed via the Internet, and past attempts by authorities and corporation affiliates to detain and wrangle for the control of cyberspace.
In 2005, the world population was approximately 6.5 billion people, only around 16% of everyone at the time had access to the Internet. The most connected nations were found in the developed world at an average of 51% and on the other hand, the least Internet-connected citizens are of the developing Third world at 8%. Despite the fact that the World Wide Web was invented by English scientist Tim Berners-Lee over ten years before in 1989, the Internet remained to be predominantly an accessory for the rich and well-educated. However, only a decade later, the Internet world would expand onto 47% of the world, 40% of the developing nations, and 81% of the developed world, steadily assert itself into an era of information where communications and connectivity define economic prosperity, technological advancement, and human development.
As the platform became massive, the communities, culture, and societies also grew, around 2.34 billion people or 32% of the world population, and 68.3% of all internet users accessed at least one platform of social media regularly in 2016. A decent 9.2% increase from the previous year. With over a thousand million registered Facebook profiles around the world and counting rapidly, most likely due to the rocketing popularity, tech, and accessibility of mobile phones or smartphones such as the iconic Apple iPhone and its Android OS rivals, the online social media will continue to be one of the mainstays for Internet users, making each and every new day technically the most connected mankind has ever been information-wise.
Towards the economic sector, the Internet proves to be an enhancer to an amount of the top-performing countries reportedly accounted for 4.1% of GDP among the G-20 countries in 2010 and 5.3% in 2016. According to the Internet Association, a trade group representing companies like Google, Airbnb, Facebook, and Amazon, 6% of the United States economy in 2010 was generated from the Internet industry. Another study by Stephen Siwek, a principal at consulting firm Economists Incorporated claims that businesses in the U.S. directly involved with the Internet generated an estimated $966 billion in 2014. The value which was contributed by Internet businesses to the general economy grew by 110% between 2007 and 2012, faster than the contribution of any other industry in the U.S.
In education, online technology can provide even more widespread access to education, including full degree programs. This online concept enables better integration for non-full-time students, particularly in continuing education, and improved interactions between students and instructors. Learning material can be used for long-distance learning and is accessible to a wider audience. Course materials are easy to access. Students can access and engage with numerous online resources at home. Using online resources such as Khan Academy or TED Talks can help students spend more time on specific aspects of what they may be learning in school but at home. Schools like MIT have made certain course materials free online. Although some aspects of a classroom setting are missed by using these resources, they are helpful tools to add additional support to the educational system. The necessity to pay for transport to the educational facility is removed.
Ranging from grocery shopping and buying casual wear clothing to the business databases and corporate communications, the ubiquitous nature of the Internet today is beginning to establish a strong web of network linkages between the various daily aspects of a modern citizen, rendering the industry unavoidable for a society to properly function and compete on the global stage. Individually, within multiple social media apps, one could assume different roles both as a node and mediator (or influencer) of a sizable string of nodes in his or her prospective online communities, empowering the demand for online connection for the society in a well-structured cycle. Because of how accessible, popular and essential it has become, the Internet technology, phone apps, programs, and websites that follow quickly evolve and progress consequently in order to effectively accomplish the web’s many objectives whether if its profit, education, or communication, thus, creating a healthy competitive environment for its overall improvement and increase in value. Meanwhile, the human users and their surrounding societal culture of entertainment, communication, language, and politics continue to become more and more intertwined with the Internet and inevitably, subjected to change in accordance with the network. As a result, the increasing expertise and online interests among young Internet users and the sprawling Internet penetration percentage between different social classes are to factor largely into the establishment of the ideology of Internet Citizens or Netizens, Digital Citizens, and Internet activism.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word Netizen as an active participant in the online community of the Internet. The term commonly also implies interest and active engagement in improving the Internet, making it an intellectual and a social resource, and/or its surrounding political structures, especially in regard to open access, net neutrality, and free speech. A digital citizen refers to a person utilizing information technology in order to engage in society, politics, and government participation. Karen Mossberger, associate professor and author of Digital Citizenship: The Internet, Society, and Participation defines digital citizens as “those who use the Internet regularly and effectively”.
The people who characterize themselves as digital citizens often use Information technology extensively, creating blogs, using social networks, and participating in online journalism. Although digital citizenship potentially begins when any child, teen, and/or adult sign up for an email address, posts pictures online, and uses e-commerce to buy merchandise online. The process of becoming a digital citizen goes beyond simple Internet activity. In the framework of T.H. Marshall’s perspective on citizenship’s three traditions (liberalism, republicanism, and ascriptive hierarchy), the digital citizenry can occur alongside the promotion of equal economic opportunity, as well as increased political participation and civic duty. Digital technology can lower the barriers to entry for participation as a citizen within society.
Citizen Journalism and The Internet
In the theory of Citizen Journalism, or as Jay Rosen, a media critic and professor of journalism at New York University has simplified the concept, Citizen Journalism involves the general audience employing the tools of the press and informing themselves. According to Terry Flew, a Professor of Media and Communication at the Queensland University of Technology, there have been three elements critical to the rise of citizen journalism: open publishing, collaborative editing, and distributed content. Additionally, Mark Glaser, a freelance journalist who frequently writes on new media issues, said in 2006 that the core idea behind Citizen Journalism is the combination of people without professional journalism training, modern technology, and global distribution via the Internet on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. The global accessibility of online media has also increased the interest in journalism among youth and students. According to Vincent Campbell, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester, theories of citizenship can be categorized into two core groups: those that consider journalism for citizenship and those that consider journalism as citizenship.
The second theory considers journalism as citizenship. This theory focuses on the different aspects of citizen identity and activity and understands citizen journalism as directly constituting citizenship. The term “liquid citizenship” coined by Zizi Papacharissi depicts how the lifestyles that individuals engage in allow them to interact with other individuals and organizations, which thus remaps the conceptual periphery of civic, political, and social. This “liquid citizenship” allows the interactions and experiences that individuals face to become citizen journalism where they create their own forms of journalism. An alternative approach of journalism as citizenship rests between the distinction between “dutiful” citizens and “actualizing” citizens. “Dutiful” citizens engage in traditional citizenship practices, while “actualizing” citizens engage in non-traditional citizenship practices. This alternative approach suggests that “actualizing” citizens are less likely to use traditional media and more likely to use online and social media as sources of information, discussion, and participation. Thus, journalism in the form of online and social media practices becomes a form of citizenship for actualizing citizens.
New media technology, such as social networking and media-sharing websites, in addition to the increasing prevalence of cellular telephones, have made citizen journalism more accessible to people worldwide. Recent advances in the new media have started to have a profound political impact. Due to the availability of technology, citizens often can report breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters. Notable examples of citizen journalism reporting from major world events are the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street, the 2013 protests in Turkey, the Euromaidan events in Ukraine, and Syrian Civil War, and the 2014 Ferguson unrest.
In contemporary democratic societies and politics, the Internet provides to the public a powerful tool to establish independent media channels, distribute political information, freely discuss criticism towards large organizations and governments, and start political movements despite opposition, if any, from the mainstream or traditional media. The concept of Internet activism basically means the use of electronic communication technologies such as social media, email, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster and more effective communication by citizen movements, the delivery of particular information to large and specific audiences as well as coordination. Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, community building, lobbying, and organizing. A digital activism campaign is “an organized public effort, making collective claims on a target authority, in which civic initiators or supporters use digital media.”
Regarding the matter of content, the Internet can be proposed as a magnifier to the prevalent idea of freedom of expression. UNESCO already recognizes that the Internet holds enormous potential for development. It provides an unprecedented volume of resources for information and knowledge and opens up new opportunities for expression and participation. UNESCO assumes its responsibility of promoting freedom of expression on the Internet and has integrated it into its regular program. The principle of freedom of expression must apply not only to the traditional media but also to the Internet and all types of emerging media platforms which will definitely contribute to development, democracy, and dialogue.
Under the newfound movement for Internet freedom and its prominence in politics and the idea of netizen participation, significant Internet activists such as Jimmy Wales, Larry Sanger, and Julian Assange created independent safe havens of information, constant pressure on authorities, and produced some of the largest whistleblowing stories in modern history.
Wikipedia was launched on January 15, 2001, by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. With 5,396,343 articles, English Wikipedia is the largest of the more than 290 Wikipedia encyclopedias. Overall, Wikipedia consists of more than 40 million articles in more than 250 different languages and, as of February 2014, it had 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month. Wikipedia is the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet and is ranked among the ten most popular websites. Wikipedia is owned by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation.
As of March 2017, Wikipedia has about forty thousand high-quality articles known as Featured Articles and Good Articles that cover vital topics. In 2005, Nature published a peer-review comparing 42 science articles from Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia and found that Wikipedia’s level of accuracy approached Encyclopedia Britannica’s.
As the articles of Wiki come from a community contribution by anyone, no statement, quotes or statistical numbers is safe from future editors. Without an absolute power to control the flow of information, the database remains free for all and therefore, could be considered least subjected to conflict of interests, deliberate manipulation, and personal biases.
While Wikipedia can easily provide an alternative to ordinary data such as knowledge of ancient history, an important current event, and/or an abstract ideology, the greatest pressure on public figures and top organizations is definitely WikiLeaks, a spotlight of modern Internet whistleblowing and Internet activism.
WikiLeaks is a non-profit multinational media organization and associated library. It was founded by its publisher Julian Assange, Australian Internet activist, in 2006. The notorious website specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying, and corruption. It has so far published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Assange described WikiLeaks as a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. On the official website, WikiLeaks states that it has contractual relationships and secure communications paths to more than 100 major media organizations from around the world and therefore, giving their sources negotiating power, impact, and technical protections that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve.
WikiLeaks has released a number of significant documents that have become front-page news items in the past. These documents include but are not limited to expenditures and holdings behind the United States Afghanistan war, the collateral murder of Iraqi journalists by the U.S. forces during the 2007 invasion of Iraq, 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and the leaked emails of the 2016 Democrat party presidential election campaign.
A notable example of how the disclosure and undeterred distribution of information can trigger the public to organize and act upon illegal activities among the political powers is the Panama Papers leak and the Icelandic protests which occurred in consequence.
The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth-biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC. The documents show the countless ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families, and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens. On April 10th, Columbia University announced that the Panama Papers investigation has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. The Pulitzer Prize Board praised the investigation for “using a collaboration of more than 300 reporters on six continents to expose the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens.”
In the wake of the Panama Papers revelations about the tax affairs of Sigmundur Davíð, Prime Minister of Iceland, along with the cabinet’s finance minister and interior minister, the people of Iceland began to use Facebook to organize a protest for the following day to pressure the resignation of the government and new parliamentary elections. The event was named the 2016 Icelandic anti-government protests soon after. According to Facebook, 10,000 people were planning to attend the protest. The size of the crowd was estimated to be between 9,000 and 23,000 people by different sources, although it was acknowledged to be one of the biggest political demonstrations in Iceland’s history.
Internet Influence in Political Protests and Demonstrations
In democracies, clashes between the interests of the citizen, groups of people, and the government are very much characterized by the idea of nonviolent demonstrations. Civil disobedience and peaceful assembly are usually considered human rights in a healthy democratic country and therefore, the population doesn’t require tactics or media war in order to express discontent and disagreement with policies, corporations, and so on... However, in many cases throughout the world in recent times, the conflict of people and authority often escalates into censorship, evasive distribution of information, and degrees of violence.
The Arab Spring also referred to as Arab revolutions or Democracy Spring was a revolutionary wave of both violent and nonviolent demonstrations, protests, riots, coups, and civil wars in North Africa and the Middle East that began on 17 December 2010 in Tunisia with the Tunisian Revolution. The Tunisian Revolution effect spread strongly to five other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, where either the regime was toppled or major uprisings and social violence occurred, including civil wars or insurgencies. Sustained street demonstrations took place in Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and Sudan. Minor protests occurred in Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
In the wake of the Arab Spring chain of protests, a considerable amount of attention has been focused on the role of social media and digital technologies in allowing citizens within areas affected by ‘the Arab Uprisings’ as a means for collective activism to circumvent state-operated media channels. The influence of social media on political activism during the Arab Spring has, however, been much debated. Protests took place both in states with a very high level of Internet usage (such as Bahrain with 88% of its population online in 2011) and in states with one of the lowest Internet penetration (Yemen and Libya).
The use of social media platforms more than doubled in Arab countries during the protests, with the exception of Libya. Some researchers have shown how collective intelligence, dynamics of the crowd in participatory systems such as social media, have the immense power to support a collective action — such as foment a political change. As of 5 April 2011, the amount of Facebook users in the Arab world surpassed 27.7 million people. Some critics have argued that digital technologies and other forms of communication — videos, cellular phones, blogs, photos, emails, and text messages — have brought about the concept of a ‘digital democracy’ in parts of North Africa affected by the uprisings.
Facebook, Twitter, and other major social media played a key role in the movement of Egyptian and Tunisian activists in particular. Nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians responded to a poll that they used Facebook to organize protests and spread awareness. This large population of young Egyptian men referred to themselves as “the Facebook generation”, exemplifying their escape from their non-modernized past. Furthermore, 28% of Egyptians and 29% of Tunisians from the same poll said that blocking Facebook greatly hindered and/or disrupted communication. Social media sites were a platform for different movements composed by many frustrated citizens, including the 2008 “April 6 Youth Movement” organized by Ahmed Mahed, which set out to organize and promote a nationwide labor strike, and which inspired the later creation of the “Progressive Youth of Tunisia”.
During the Arab Spring, people created pages on Facebook to raise awareness about alleged crimes against humanity, such as police brutality in the Egyptian Revolution. Whether the project of raising awareness was primarily pursued by Arabs themselves or simply advertised by western social media users is a matter of debate; Jared Keller, a journalist for The Atlantic, claims that most activists and protesters used Facebook (among other social media) to organize; However, what influenced Iran was “good old-fashioned word of mouth”. Jared Keller argued that the sudden and anomalous social media output was caused by westerners witnessing the situations, and then broadcasting them. The Middle East and North Africa used texting, emailing, and blogging only to organize and communicate information about internal local protests.
A study by Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina and Christopher Wilson of the United Nations Development Program concluded that “social media in general, and Facebook in particular, provided new sources of information the regime could not easily control and were crucial in shaping how citizens made individual decisions about participating in protests, the logistics of protest, and the likelihood of success.
In a similar chain of events, the home to the capitalist ideals, technology, and democratic freedom, the United States saw its own version of the Arab Spring protests but with a different opposition. Rather than the authoritarian dictatorships in Egypt and most of the Middle East and North Africa, the American demonstrators would go against the private corporate sections and global issue of stark economic inequality.
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is the name given to a protest movement that began on September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district, receiving global attention and spawning the movement against economic inequality worldwide.
The original protest was initiated by Kalle Lasn and Micah White of Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist publication, who conceived of a September 17 occupation in Lower Manhattan. The first such proposal appeared on the Adbusters website on February 2, 2011, under the title “A Million Man March on Wall Street.” Lasn registered the OccupyWallStreet.org web address on June 9. That same month, Adbusters emailed its subscribers saying “America needs its own Tahrir.” The Tahrir is a reference to the 2011 popular Egyptian revolution. White said the reception of the idea “snowballed from there”. In a blog post on July 13, 2011, Adbusters proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, the lack of legal consequences for those who brought about the global crisis of monetary insolvency, and an increasing disparity in wealth. The protest was promoted with an image featuring a dancer atop Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue. The Internet group Anonymous created a video encouraging its supporters to take part in the protests. The protest itself began on September 17 while a Facebook page for the demonstrations began two days later on September 19, featuring a YouTube video of earlier events. By mid-October, Facebook listed 125 Occupy-related pages.
On the other side of the world, Infamous for its strict state-controlled media, Russia saw a number of organized anti-government protests with notable ones ranging from the 2011–2013 Snow Revolution, the 2014 Anti-war protest, and the most recent being the 2017 protest against Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister and former president of Russia for corruption.
In March 2017, protests against alleged corruption in the federal Russian government took place simultaneously in many major cities across the country. The trigger being the lack of proper response from the Russian authorities to the published investigative film He Is Not Dimon To You, which has garnered more than 20 million views on YouTube. Protesters used visual and auditory material (such as posters, hinted-on objects, slogans, and chanting), which in turn urged the local police and anti-riot forces to intervene in the events. A new wave of mass protests has been announced for June 12, 2017.
“He is not Dimon to you” is a 2017 Russian documentary film about the corrupt affairs of Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev. The film alleges that Dmitry Medvedev has embezzled an estimated $1.2 billion. He is not Dimon to you was posted on YouTube on March 2, 2017. The video has received about 1.5 million views on its first day. A week after, this surged to 7 million, exceeding the result of Chaika, another film by Alexei Navalny and the Anti-Corruption Foundation. In two weeks, the video has received over 13 million views. A month after release, the video has over 17 million views. As of April 2017, the video has 20.2 million views. Russian state-owned and most of the privately held media have completely ignored the controversial revelations. There was no reaction from Dimitry Medvedev or other high-ranking Russian government officials.
In contrast to the cases of David and Goliath style of conflict, the social media politics can and did have backlashes from over engaging users with poorly expressed political opinions especially in the shape of online flaming and blatant partisanism polarization which resulted in self-inflicting censorship behaviors done by some of the users in forms of Facebook unfriending, blocking, removing any non-preferable from their timeline page, and in the end, effectively becoming vulnerable to manipulation from one side of the conflict as seen in the case of the Thai 2013–2014 protests.
The 2013–14 Thai political crisis was a period of political instability in Thailand. Anti-government protests took place between November 2013 and May 2014, organized by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), a political pressure group led by former Democrat Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban. The protests eventually resulted in the removal of incumbent Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a coup d’état, and the establishment of a military junta.
The political division in Thailand appeared to be just as visible online as it is on the streets of Bangkok. Social media watchers say the Thai capital is the city with the most Facebook users in the world and in turn, the way people are talking about politics in the country is being shaped by social media in a large way. Mattawan Sutjaritthanarak, Prachathai, points out in her editorial piece on the news website that journalists and media scholars have shown concern about the current social media war among Thai citizens. Ms. Pirongrong Ramasoota Rananand, Head of the Department of Journalism at Chulalongkorn University, said during a public forum on “Thai media in times of political crisis” that social media could accelerate political partisanship among Thai citizens.
She also indicates that the flaming quarrels between online users of both political sides about the current political situation are seen everywhere in social media, resulting in the act of making ‘enemies by political viewpoint’ temporarily or permanently vanish from sight by ‘blocking’ or even ‘unfriending’ them. During the past weeks, many social media users have complained about this phenomenon. People are being ‘unfriended’ by their colleagues, former professors, and even close but possibly soon-to-be-ex-friends. Decades ago personal conflicts regarding political attitudes would happen during face-to-face discussions; social media today has surely accelerated partisanship to the next level. This intolerance towards different opinions leads to selective media consumption. In spite of social media’s ability to pool and share information from various sources, some users chose to blindfold themselves and become more prone to manipulation by one-sided media.
For some people, the choice of unfriending might appear too extreme for dealing with differing political opinions and personal relationships. This group of people seeks a way to share their political opinions while at the same time trying to reduce confrontations. One of my friends who does not agree with the current protests has decided to make a ‘tailored’ list of friends who she discovers to have opposing political thoughts, not because she cannot stand opinions from other people, but rather because she does not want to be ousted by her friends when expressing her personal political opinions. “I don’t want to be put into that witch trial kind of judgment by other people,” she said. While this might be seen as the most practical way to avoid confrontation, it is worrisome that freedom of expression is being violated and self-censorship is being considered as a solution to political disagreement.
On Censorship and Internet Control
Ever since the Arab Spring events that began in 2010, the world has witnessed the political and societal necessity that the Internet has become alongside its effect on Internet activist movements. At this point, the author would like to state a claim that any governmental and or private attempt to censor, block, restrict the source, the network itself and the accessibility of the Internet could be understood as an effort to take control of the masses and thwart any act of civil organization, discussion, or revelation of crucial information. For this reason, to achieve the goal of a free society and progress towards democratic rule, the Internet must ideally remain pluralistic, independent from total monopolistic ownership, and unrestricted by authorities.
The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) was a joint project whose goal was to monitor and report on internet filtering and surveillance practices by nations. The project employed a number of technical means, as well as an international network of investigators, to determine the extent and nature of government-run internet filtering programs. Participating academic institutions included the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School; the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford; and, The SecDev Group, which took over from the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge. In December 2014, the OpenNet Initiative partners announced that they would no longer carry out research under the ONI banner. The ONI website, including all reports and data, is being maintained indefinitely to allow continued public access to ONI’s entire archive of published work and data.
Another investigative reporting on Internet freedom, The Freedom House, a U.S. government-funded NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights, has produced five editions of Freedom on the Net report. The first one was released in 2009, the second one in 2011, and so on. The Freedom on the Net provides analytical reports and numerical ratings regarding the state of Internet freedom for countries worldwide. The reports are based on surveys that ask a set of questions designed to measure each country’s level of Internet and digital media freedom, as well as the access and openness of other digital means of transmitting information, particularly mobile phones and text messaging services. Results are presented for three areas which are Obstacles to Access, Limits on Content, and Violations of User Rights. According to the results, 14 out of 60 surveyed countries in 2013 are considered “Not Free”. In 2014, 15 out of 65 are “Not Free” and in the last edition in the series, in 2014, 19 out of 65 are “Not Free”.
Some of the most significant attempts of Internet judicial restrictions include the Stop Online Piracy Act, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s appeal to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order and remove what is known as the Net Neutrality
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. Many have argued that since ISP’s would be required to block access to certain websites that this is censorship. On 18 January 2012, the English Wikipedia shut down for 24 hours to protest SOPA and PIPA. In the wake of this and many other online protests, Rep. Lamar Smith has stated, “The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution”. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a key opponent of the bills, said lawmakers had collected more than 14 million names — more than 10 million of them voters — who contacted them to protest the once-obscure legislation.
The Protect Intellectual Property Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA) is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods’’, especially those registered outside the U.S. The bill was introduced on May 12, 2011, by Senator Patrick Leahy and 11 bipartisan co-sponsors. PIPA is a rewrite of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which failed to pass in 2010. In the wake of online protests held on January 18, 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Friday, January 20 that a vote on the bill would be postponed until issues raised about the bill were resolved. Reid urged Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chief sponsor of PIPA, to “continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet.”
In January 2014, a federal court of appeals struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order, which was designed to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing users’ connections to online content. The court did not comment on the validity of these rules but simply said that the FCC had used the wrong legal foundation to justify them. In response, on May 15 FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released flawed Internet rules that would have let ISPs charge content companies for priority treatment, relegating all other content to a slower tier of service. Wheeler’s plan would have allowed telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon to pick winners and losers online and discriminate against online content and applications. And it would have destroyed the state of the open Internet. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to devise new schemes to charge users more for access and services, making it harder for us to communicate online and easier for companies to censor our speech. The Internet could come to resemble cable TV, where gatekeepers exert control over where you go and what you see. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to block content and speech they don’t like, reject apps that compete with their own offerings, and prioritize Web traffic (reserving the fastest loading speeds for the highest bidders and sticking everyone else with the slowest).
Meanwhile, some governments decided to apply more straightforward methods to deny Internet movements. Examples here are from censorships by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Thai military junta or the National Council for Peace and Order led by Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha.
Turkey’s Internet censorship regime shifted from “moderate” to “severe” in late 2016 following a series of social media shutdowns, regional Internet blackouts, and restrictions on VPN and Tor circumvention tools documented by independent digital rights watchdog Turkey Blocks. Months earlier, human rights research group Freedom House downgraded its outlook of internet freedom in the country to “Not Free,” noting in its report that the assessment was made before further restrictions following the abortive military coup in July. With regard to Internet censorship, in the 2017 Report on media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe found an increase in blocking and filtering of web pages, and increased practice of resorting to bandwidth throttling during times of domestic crises, making certain social media and platforms inaccessible, some cases of complete Internet shutdowns, an increase of prosecutions and detentions for online activities, causing self-censorship.
The subsequent 2014 Thai coup d’état has led to further restrictions on Internet content in the country, using the powers of the coup’s National Council for Peace and Order. Internet filtering in Thailand was classified as selective in the social, political, and Internet tools areas, and no evidence of filtering was found in the conflict/security area by the OpenNet Initiative in November 2011. Thailand was put on the Reporters Without Borders list of countries under surveillance in 2011. The Freedom House, in 2014 awarded Thailand an overall score of 62 or “Not Free” for Internet freedom, citing substantial political censorship and the arrests of bloggers and other online users, ranking it 52 of 65 countries. In 2013 Thailand had been rated as “partly free” and then, “not free” onwards until the latest report in 2016.
Thailand’s Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA) gives overly broad powers to the government to restrict free speech, enforce surveillance and censorship, and retaliate against activists, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite concerns expressed by civil society, business, and diplomatic representatives, the controversial law was unanimously adopted on December 16, 2016, by the National Legislative Assembly. Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division described the new law by the NCPO as a facilitation of the junta to punish its critics. Before the law was passed, more than 300,000 people signed a petition demanding that the National Legislative Assembly reject the controversial amendments, which they saw as an infringement of privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet.
The precedent of interpretation by authorities that are neither judicial nor independent from the executive has troubling implications for human rights reporting. After the May 2014 coup, the government blocked the Human Rights Watch Thailand webpage for containing information that was considered by authorities to be “inappropriate”.
Perhaps in the near future, the trend of Internet activism would hopefully become more populous, grant more power to the netizens, and effectively achieve more than the citizens of today ever could. Over three billion people, accounting for around 46.1% of the world population, have access to the Internet in 2016 while over four billion are still Internetless. While demonstrations are increasingly organized and publicized online, they are still sparse, disconnected from one another, underfunded, and generally ineffective. Nations are still “Not Free” due to so many circumstances, unique to each one. In conclusion, the culture of Internet activism is born but still far from becoming an established belief. However, If the trend continues with the constantly increasing users, netizens, and Internet activists alongside the ideas of free Internet, the control of cyberspace and possibly, of governments could one day belong to the citizens of the world.
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