Social media = freedom?

In the course of my daily Internet wanderings, I stumbled across this article from Socialmediatrader.com on the World Information Access report regarding banned social media. According to the report, since 2003, 64 citizens unaffiliated with news organizations have been arrested for their blogging activities worldwide.

worldmap

Not surprisingly, many of these bloggers/tweeters/etc are from countries we generally associate with lack of freedom, e.g., China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. More interesting was the appearance of India and Brazil in this report.  Excepting these two anomalies, this list is a virtual who’s who of repressive governments.

In total there have been 940 total months of jail time served by bloggers in these countries, with China, Egypt and Iran accounting for more than half of all arrests.  Many of these arrests are a result of bloggers exposing corrupt or unjust practices by their government on an international stage. Additionally, among the arrestees there is a strong representation of pro-secular bloggers, particularly in Muslim countries. A good example of this is the prominence of Twitter users in Iran during the election protests this past summer.

Of course these social media sites are often subjected to a swift crackdown from local authorities. With an average sentence of 15 months per offender, it seems that this dissemination of information is not taken lightly by the ruling party, whether it be the communists in China or the fundamentalists in Iran. As such, these citizen journalists demonstrate the value/threat of a free media to totalitarian regimes.  With freedom of information being one of the cornerstones of democracy and personal liberty, these bloggers present the ugly, private side of tyrannical governments for the entire world.

Interestingly enough, fundamentalist and secular social media users in Islamic countries are virtually identical in number, both comprising approximately 3% of the total world wide presence, according to the report.

Though it may be a gross over-simplification, it seems that one of the hallmarks of progressive countries is in their approach to social media. It will be interesting from both a political and technological view to see how these still-new media forms shape future revolutions and protests. In this age of mass media and information sharing, sites like Twitter may become bastions of liberty in totalitarian countries.

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