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Social Networking Spurs Activism Against Repression 303

Posted by Soulskill
from the freedom-of-poke dept.
The New York Times Magazine is running a story about the rise in political activism in Egypt through sites like Facebook, which allow citizens to gather and share ideas in ways they otherwise aren't allowed. A state-of-emergency law has been active in Egypt since 1981, which, among other things, "allows the government to ban political organizations and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a license from the government." As affordable internet access has spread throughout the country, the government is having a much harder time keeping wraps on the ideas of dissidents. Blocking access to the sites isn't a good solution for the government, because many non-dissidents use it for mundane communications. As Harvard's Ethan Zuckerman puts it, "...doing so would alert a large group of people who they can't afford to radicalize."
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Social Networking Spurs Activism Against Repression

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  • Maybe in Egypt, sure. Ever seen those 'Official Petition to Facebook to blankety blankety blank' groups? Yeah, they get a lot done. We're still stuck with the new and still much-hated format.
  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:25PM (#26599535) Homepage Journal

    To the extent that the ban of the Muslim Brotherhood (a theocratic group pushing for stricter religious rule) in Egypt is effective, I say "Bravo!". When people complain about political, religious, or other repression from a government, it's generally a good idea to find out what kind of group exactly is being repressed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      they should still be given the right to express thier views, stand to be elected, etc. sure monitor them invade thier privacy to prevent terrorist acts (if you must), but by forcing your opinions on them you are no better than they are.

      • by Improv (2467)

        I disagree. I think anyone intending to create religious rule should be disqualified from being elected.

        Political liberty is less important than personal liberty. Given a choice between living under a strict Sharia-enforcing government, democratically elected, and a more libertene western government with the political form of an autocracy, I'd pick the latter every time. I believe most people would if they understood the contrast. In practice, it's doable to have a democracy-with-limits.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by HungryHobo (1314109)

          If the world was made up of clones of you that would be great.
          Why should you get to dictate what sort of leader I'm allowed want?

          • by Improv (2467)

            Why should you be allowed to elect a leader that puts an imam in my bedroom?

            • why should you be allowed elect a leader who doesn't let my child wear a cross to school and so damns them to hell?
              (note I'm not religious in the slightest but this line of argument is just to wrong )

              • by Improv (2467)

                Consider the alternative. Think about what it'd be like to live in a state where naming a teddy bear after Mohammad or disrespecting the Bible gets an angry mob calling for your death.

                This is not the society we live in in the United States (well, not so much - some unfortunates like Matthew Shepard have found a few people willing to kill him, but their acts are at least broadly condemned, and if we look in the past, we see some pretty horrific things like witch trials that had broad-enough support to work i

                • Or living in a state where merely walking around naked or taking pictures of yourself can get you labled as a sex offender for life!
                  In such places people do not deserve the right to free speach!!!

            • Lets try this on other moral issues?
              Why should you be allowed elect a leader who would make it a crime for me to save another human life?(anti abortionists who consider stopping an abortion akin to saving someone from being stabbed)
              Why should you be allowed to elect a leader who believes me to be little more than an incubator? (other side)

              Why should you be allowed to elect a leader who would make me do anything that I don't want to do?

          • Because your leader doesn't solely belong to you. One of the central tenets of liberty is that the rights of the minority are protected against the tyranny of the majority. Of course thats a bit abstract and in practice a balancing act, but someone who says that nobody should be allowed to eat pork or drink beer is obviously violating the rights of us beer swilling bacon eaters. And of course the opposite is true, anyone who forces someone to eat pork and/or drink beer(outside of Germany of course :P) is
            • Because your leader doesn't solely belong to you. One of the central tenets of liberty is that the rights of the minority are protected against the tyranny of the majority.

              Ok.
              The I'm overusing the abortion topic but why should you be allowed elect a leader who forces me to be little more than an incubator?
              Or why should you be allowed elect a leader who forces me to stand idley by while murder is commited?
              tyranny of the majority!!!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          anyone intending to create religious rule should be disqualified from being elected.

          Good idea.

          And while we're at it, let's ban anyone intending to restrict gay marriage. Or should we ban anyone intending to promote gay marriage?

          And we should ban people who support torture, or the death penalty.

          And maybe people who support raising taxes on the poor. After all, the poor need that money -- it would be torture to tax them...

          I've got it! How about we ban people who want to destroy our core rights? Rights like freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press...

          Sorry, you're disqualif

      • by cdrguru (88047)

        Bad idea. Would you approve of an openly pro-NAMBLA campaign in the US? One that would include lots of photographs of NAMBlA-sactioned activities showing how decent and wonderful it can be for your son to develop a sexual relationship with an older man? OK, thought not.

        How about a church sect that uses the Bible to "prove" the superiority of whites over blacks and wants to use cable public access time to preach their message? With their charitable works getting lots of mainstream coverage about all the

        • by khasim (1285)

          Bad idea. Would you approve of an openly pro-NAMBLA campaign in the US? One that would include lots of photographs of NAMBlA-sactioned activities showing how decent and wonderful it can be for your son to develop a sexual relationship with an older man? OK, thought not.

          You thought wrong. As long as the pictures did not run afoul of pornography laws. It's like making the FBI's job that much easier. The pedophiles are self identifying themselves and announcing their meetings. Let them run!

          How about a church s

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Would you approve of an openly pro-NAMBLA campaign in the US?

          Approve of what they're selling? No, absolutely not. But I would approve of their right to try.

          How about a church sect that uses the Bible to "prove" the superiority of whites over blacks and wants to use cable public access time to preach their message?

          There has been a supreme court case about this -- someone tried to get a show canceled on Kansas City Public Access TV. It was called, "Klansas City Kable."

          A little closer to what is going on in Egypt would be if new political party came out with an clearly religious platform that included banning all religions that did not include homosexuals. With the message that by not including homosexuals these other religons were "bad for the country and must be eradicated".

          Yep. Go ahead. Still just talking -- I absolutely do not agree with the message, but I'll fight to let it be told.

          Burn down a few Catholic churches and Islamic mosques as a symbol of the "new order".

          And this is the moment when it becomes not OK. Because this is no longer speech, it's actual vandalism, maybe violence.

          Anyone actually doing this s

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HungryHobo (1314109)

      Oh sure, it's fine when it's a group you don't like but

      First they came for the Communists...

      • by PPH (736903)

        First they came for the Communists...

        The Communists have their own track record with repression. It isn't very pretty.

        In the end, Communism collapsed on its own. There was no "them" that had any significant effect. For example, in spite of the Reagan/Thatcher claims, Communism in Poland was killed off mainly due to the efforts of a shipyard electrician [wikipedia.org].

        • I was expecting people to get the reference but I guess I hoped too much...
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came [wikipedia.org]...
          When the Nazis came for the communists,
          I remained silent;
          I was not a communist.
          When they locked up the social democrats,
          I remained silent;
          I was not a social democrat.

          When they came for the trade unionists,
          I did not speak out;
          I was not a trade unionist.

          When they came for the Jews,
          I remained silent;
          I was not a Jew.

          When they came for me,
          there was no one left to speak out.

    • by Dhalka226 (559740)

      Why? I probably don't support their agenda (though I know nothing about it other than what you described), nor would I support any violence on their part to achieve it. I do support their right to say it, however, and if they can convince people to go along with it then I say the people get what they deserve. Some people are going to find that a particularly harsh viewpoint, but I hold the same one about the United States: If we vote for idiots and criminals to run our government, we deserve it when we g

      • by Improv (2467)

        It's not fundamentalist about liberty, and it's different than the way you consider these things, but I don't understand the "cowardly" claim. I am simply moderate about democracy - I don't think it's a death pact. I acknowledge it's benefits and its flaws, and, like fire, consider it very useful in some circumstances, properly framed and used for the public good. I would rather us not think in terms of people deserving punishment because of their choices - that seems cruel to me, when we have alternatives.

    • And yet, that group already knows how to get around all the restrictions. So who does it hurt? Just regular civilians.
    • You've just reinforced an idea that is the reason the United States and the west in general are despised by Muslims worldwide. We have been propping up dictatorships in that area for decades, including countries like Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims cannot testify in court, children are married off to forty year olds, and public beheadings are commonplace.

      If you don't have any principles, that's fine, and at least I'm glad you admit it. But until the end of our military sponsorships of repressive governments

      • by Improv (2467)

        I have principles. They differ from yours.

        We have a choice between several options, and we should choose the one that's least bad, even if it's still not great. That's still a principled stance.

        I don't believe the Declaration of Independence is the best work of political philosophy written. It was the prelude to a failed government (said government was later replaced by the constitution), but it was interesting in its ideals and effects. None of us are constrained to agree with it.

        The harm to the welfare of

        • I have principles. They differ from yours.

          And for that reason I think you are a danger and should never be allowed to run for public office or to speak in public!

  • One good point about the net, once enough data is being moved around you can hide a hell of a lot in the noise without any real chance of getting caught.
    building a group is where all the risk is. talking to each other can be achieved extremely covertly.

  • Simple Solution (Score:2, Redundant)

    by LordKaT (619540)

    Make the Social Sites the enemies.

    Since you've got state-run everything, force an ungodly amount of unreasonable requests on these foreign companies, like demanding $1 Million per user from your country (or whatever worthless paper currency your country has issued).

    Report to your citizens - the people you "cannot afford to radicalize" - that they (the social networks) are being unfair and stealing taxpayer money, the main cause of child rape, or some other such bullshit. Twist, lie, and contort until it fit

    • by Dhalka226 (559740)

      Since the companies cannot comply with your requests, they have to block access from your country.

      I was following you up until then. Why would Facebook (as one example) "have to block access from [their] country?" Maaaaybe if the social networking company had an office in the country we're talking about, but the vast majority of them will not -- and even if one did, that wouldn't stop all those pesky rebels from hopping on the sites that don't instead.

      If I were in charge of a social networking site and

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:39PM (#26599657)

    In this case, the Egyptian government wants to bring peace to the Middle East, whereas the activists want more violence. The Egyptian government has long been instrumental in coordinating peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians. The majority of the activists coordinating through Facebook are doing so to express their hatred of Israel, and their desire for its destruction.

    There was an interesting interview with a Hamas leader on Al Jazeera not long ago. Essentially, he said that the leaders know that violence won't lead anywhere. The reason the violence keeps going is because the common people on both sides keep calling for it, and leaders who don't acquiesce are thrown out. If the same thing starts happening in Egypt, then it will just lead to more war, and more death.

    We, people from more peaceful parts of the world, generally assume that more democracy is always good. We fail to realize that at times, the majority is wrong. The majority wants to kill the other side, because they were harmed, and then the majority on the other side wants to kill the first. It's self-perpetuating, tit for tat. The only way to break out is with strong leaders on both sides who are willing to step up and refuse to fight. Giving the vengeful mob tools to undermine that is not a good thing.

    There is no easy solution in the Middle East, but any solution would need to start with strong leaders in both Israel and Gaza who refuse to resort to violence, not with grassroots movements calling for each other's destruction. We need to recognize that, and stop applying our own values to their situation.

    • by Improv (2467)

      Little phrasing quibble - we're still applying our own values - what we need to do is stop applying the value-conclusions that are common and more suitable for our particular situations in areas where they would actually serve our values very badly.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      Yes.

      I would go further and say that while the people and leaders of Israel are not above reproach, it is difficult to criticize the actions of the Israelis when faced with an enemy on their doorstep that openly calls for their extermination. If you had a neigobor you didn't like you could learn to get along, but when your neighbor starts every day by putting up a sign calling for your death it is difficult to imagine how you can "just get along".

      Regardless of leadership, the people on the street in Gaza an

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kingrames (858416)
      I'm not convinced.

      I still say that allowing people to speak freely is the only way to ensure peace.

      Shutting people up when they spout hate only makes their cause seem righteous. By censoring them, you make them look like the good guys.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by artor3 (1344997)

        Can you give an example? We don't let the KKK spout their hate so freely any more, and it has worked wonders in diminishing their presence. It sure as hell hasn't made them look like the good guys.

        • by Spatial (1235392)
          Correlation isn't causation. How do you know it did anything?
          • by artor3 (1344997)

            Look up the Southern Poverty Law Center [wikipedia.org]. They have launched many law suits against the KKK for hate speech leading to violence. As a result, several branches of the KKK have lost their compounds, and all of their funds. With no place to assemble, and no money to pay for advertising, their influence diminishes. It is absolutely a cause-and-effect relationship.

        • by Zerth (26112)

          We don't let them make active threats against black people, but we haven't otherwise repressed their rights to free speech. There was a KKK march near where my in-laws live around Halloween. They were granted the permits and everything with no fuss.

          The local news made fun of them, though.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      If a people want to go to war, then let them go to war. If they are ultimately destroyed, it will be their own fault. We place far to much blame on leaders and are far too forgiving of the followers that enabled them. It is a form of scapegoating that ironically keeps those leaders in power. It is to their advantage that a population be considered blameless, because it enables their personal wars to be made in much the same way that corporate liability emboldens unethical business practices. The rank and fi

      • by artor3 (1344997)

        That'd be all well and good if the only casualties in a war were the people who called for it. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

    • "In this case, the Egyptian government wants to bring peace to the Middle East, whereas the activists want more violence"

      Not at all, all the activists want is the ability to get rid of the government, like we do. And the activists in the far east wouldn't be so violent if they didn't keep geting bombed with US made phosphorus bombs [bbc.co.uk].

      the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not criticize Israel
  • by rs232 (849320) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:01PM (#26599873)
    Luckily we live the the most democratic [slashdot.org] place on the planet. Where free speech and freedom to public protect are enshrined in the constitution. Except [indymedia.org.uk] outside Parliament Square and American military bases and drug testing labs and .. anywhere else for that matter. You also risk getting arrested if you try and talk to any of the protesters. Try it if you don't believe me. One other method of intimidation is the mass photographing of protectors by the Police Forward Intelligence Team [pressgazette.co.uk] and ironically the seizure [wordpress.com] of photographs by legitimate journalists.

    --

    "Freedom of speech without freedom of response is meaningless"

    "Without privacy, there cannot be freedom. And without freedom, there cannot be personal or social growth"
    • One other method of intimidation is the mass photographing of protectors by the Police Forward Intelligence Team

      Unfortunately that was going on before 1984 in the city where I live. There used to be an annual "peace march" which was fully authorized and had city permits. It went over a bridge to the city core and the police would be up on the roof of a building beside the bridge trying to videotape every single face in the crowd (over 100,000 people one year).

  • by MadFarmAnimalz (460972) * on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:09PM (#26599957) Homepage
    It isn't that there's something magical about teh intarwebs or facebook that enables these activists, the regime in Egypt is also taking a somewhat lenient approach to the whole affair. There's precious little internet censorship in Egypt (matter of fact, can't think of any real examples, not as blatant as for example thepiratebay.org getting blocked in Italy and Denmark for example).

    The worst internet censorship I saw (haven't been to all the countries in the area, mind) was actually in Tunisia where bogus MSIE error pages would be thrown back at me. In firefox. Not too long after the WSIS conference in fact, to ladle the irony on. Even sites like BoingBoing was blocked, but then I can kind of understand that :) Consider also, if facebook and social networking internet-style was so effective at fostering political opposition, there's be more successful grass-roots opposition in for example Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, etc.

    There's been some arrests of bloggers in Egypt, but if you watch the Egyptian blogging community it's pretty clear they can get away with far more than many other countries. Wasn't there legislation being written in Italy that bloggers were to be held up against the same laws as journos?

    In any case, with internet penetration being what it is in Egypt, even a very successful digital opposition campaign will only have limited effect on a national aggregate. I wonder if the traditional coffee shop networks or SMS for that matter (if you really want something technological to tout) as a vehicle for collective social action isn't orders of magnitude more effective.

    Not to rant too hard (the blogging community there sprang from the LUG I helped set up, so I got to observe in a sense), but as an experiment in citizen media the Egyptian blogging community has at the very least outdone traditional media in one respect: sensationalising. I'd be careful where I dish out my kudos, Mr. New York Times. :)

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