Tag Archives: Freedom House

Twitter vs. Tyrants: Remarks by Freedom House

My colleague Chris Doten asked me to suggest panelists for this congressional briefing on the role of new media in authoritarian states. Here are the highlights from Daniel Calingaert’s opening remarks on behalf of Freedom House along with my critiques:

  • New media has created significant  opportunities for advancing freedom in countries ruled by authoritarian  regimes.  It has expanded the space for free expression and facilitated civic activism.  But authoritarian regimes have pushed back.
  • While new media plays an important role in expanding free expression and  facilitating citizen engagement, it does not drive political change.  New media  alone cannot undermine authoritarian regimes.  Authoritarian regimes in the  former Soviet republics and elsewhere continue to repress their citizens, and  this repression extends to digital media.

Me: Absolutely, which is why I keep repeating the following point: we need to cross-fertilize the fields of digital activism and civil resistance. Lessons learned and best practices need to be exchanged. See my post on Digital Resistance: Between Digital Activism and Civil Resistance, which I wrote back in December 2008.

  • In Belarus, authorities conduct surveillance on Internet users, and they  require cyber cafés to register each user’s browsing history.
  • Authoritarian regimes use a variety of methods  to limit online freedom of expression.  The United States therefore has to  respond in multiple ways.
  • The Internet is a medium for communication.  Its impact in authoritarian regimes ultimately depends less on the medium itself than on the messages it  conveys and on the messengers who use it to drive progress towards democracy.

Me: I really wouldn’t frame the issue in such a dichotomous way. The Internet is a new and different type of medium for communication. One that is radically different from previous communication typologies of one-to-many broadcasting. The medium, message and actors are all important.

  • We should not only invest in anti-censorship technology, but also  support the creation and distribution of pro-democracy content and back the  courageous and creative activists in repressive environments who are struggling  to bring about political change.

Me: This last point is especially important and the reason why I wrote this blog post on Content for Digital Activism and Civil Resistance three months ago. I had been advising a large scale digital activism project and was increasingly concerned by the lack of importance placed on content.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Digital Media & Repressive Regimes: Global Internet Freedom Index

Karin Karlekar from Freedom House gave a really interesting presentation on the development of a Global Internet Freedom Index, or IGIF. She is planning a pilot study of 15 countries that will include analytical reports and numerical ratings.

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The index’s scoring system will be similar to the Freedom House media freedom index in order to facilitate for comparisons. The IGIF will include both Internet and mobile/phone text messaging. It will focus especially on transmission of news and political relevant communications, while acknowledging that some restrictions on harmful content may be legitimate.

The index is comprised of three general themes, each of which includes a number of (weighted) sub-indicators. The key components of the themes below is access to technology and the free flow of information/content.

  1. Obstacles to access
  2. Limits on content and communication
  3. Violation of individual online rights

One of the sub-indicators, for example, focuses on activism in order to capture local resistance and activism in addition to government restrictions.

I think this is an excellent initiative with the expected added value long term being the ability to identify competing trends between Repression 2.0 and Democracy 2.0. This goes to the heart of my dissertation topic and I hope to draw on the IGIF framework to inform my field research questions.

Patrick Philippe Meier