When Barack Obama met with Chinese students yesterday in Shanghai, he called for greater internet freedom in China, saying that “the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes.”
However, in the upcoming issue of Prospect web guru Evgeny Morozov argues that the west has not only vastly overestimated the power of repressive regimes to censor the internet, but is also misguided in thinking that the internet is good for democracy. Instead, authoritarian regimes are finding new ways to control the web:
The “great firewall of China,” which supposedly keeps the Chinese in the dark, is legendary. Such methods of internet censorship no longer work. They might stop the man on the street, but a half determined activist can find a way round. And more often than not, official attempts to delete a post by an anti-government blogger will backfire, as the blogger’s allies take on the task of distributing it through their own networks. Governments have long lost absolute control over how the information spreads online, and extirpating it from blogs is no longer a viable option. Instead, they fight back. It is no trouble to dispatch commentators to accuse a dissident of being an infidel, a sexual deviant, a criminal, or worst of all a CIA stooge.
The December issue of Prospect is available to buy in shops from Thursday 19th November, and subscribers can read the piece online at www.prospectmagazine.co.uk