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Informationaphobia and Blogophobia May 18, 2007

Posted by Wilz in Society, Technology.

These two words should be added to the urban dictionary. I would propose the following definition :

A feeling of fear towards the spread of information, or the existence of tools for the spread of information (specifically here, blogs) among the people served by elected and non-elected officers in power.

According to several articles in the news today, online information repression and censoring around the world is on the rise. A good article at MIT’s Technology Review quotes a researcher :

“Over the course of five years, we’ve gone from just a few places doing state-based technical filtering, like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, to more than two dozen,” says John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. “As Internet censorship and surveillance grow, there’s reason to worry about the implications of these trends for human rights, political activism, and economic development around the world.”

What I find rather hilarious is what South Korea does. According to the same article :

“The South Koreans block several North Korean websites,” says Nart Villeneuve, director of technical research at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. “They even tamper with the system so that when you try to access one of those North Korean sites, the URL resolves to a South Korean police page telling you, ‘What you’re trying to access is illegal, and we know your IP [Internet protocol] address.”

censorshipeyechart.gifIf the South Korean information police has a little more sense of humor, they could’ve added, “Big Brother is Watching You” to that warning message. Compared to the old crude methods of blocking which required national ISPs to ban an entire domain (like the whole of blogspot) or other similar measures, governments now have much more control over the methods which they may use to control information. It would appear that this new level of sophistication in information repression has arrived thanks largely to technology provided by US companies. Also interesting, is that Thailand is blocking YouTube, that some countries block Google Maps (too much geography is bad!) and Skype and that some countries are practicing election-time-only censorship.

Although apparently informationaphobia haven’t reached Malaysia yet, we’ve been seeing some waves of blogophobia here, especially among our politicians. There has been much written about this. But my favourite one has to be three paragraphs in an article by Marina Mahathir on The Star :

As they say, if you cannot beat them (and you cannot), then you might as well join them. Indeed, there are several politician blogs that could be very popular.

The only thing, however, is that politicians must be prepared for the Net to bite back at them. Unlike ceramahs to supporters and cosy chats to compliant reporters, netizens have a tendency to talk back, and not always very politely.

If they think you are talking garbage, they will tell you. The only solution to this is to not talk garbage, which apparently some of our politicians find very hard to do. Perhaps this explains their reticence in embracing the Net.

I wish I dared to write something as cool as that! Malaysian politicians have suggested things as funny as registering or classifying bloggers. Although the government generally seems to take a negative outlook towards blogging, every now and then we get a breath of fresh air. I feel a healthy respect for a minister who is willing to allow for the concept of public intelligence.

Many people in public office seems to think that the existence of too many information sources causes people to become confused and that people are too dumb to be able to differentiate fact from fiction, hype from truth. Are the Malaysian internet public really that dumb? I honestly don’t think so.

If there is any reason at all that the public is unable to practice wisdom in information filtering, it would have to be due to the fact they have been spoon fed information that they’re expected to believe at face value for too long. Isn’t now the time to start changing that? The only way to fight (alleged) misinformation is with information. And information technology (ironically) has completely left them behind. Catch up guys. Start your own blogs. It’s either that or internet censorship.

The reason why I’m writing this in the first place though, is far more interesting. The level of controversy towards blogging have apparently reached a level where even administrators of private institutions are afraid of it. When I proposed to initiate a blog to discuss issues related to student development, which is relevant to what I do, I was told that it is a ‘difficult’ idea and that I should hold off on it until it have been brought to a meeting and discussed. The poor administrator is so afraid of the negative view of the powers that be on blogs that he hesitates at the sound of the word.

What an irony, here I was, wanting to spend some of my time to communicate with our students – to exchange ideas, discuss issues and fill in the gaping information vacuum that exists between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Leadership by ignorance continues to be the main practice. How can we be at the same time wondering why our youth are incapable of critical thinking and analysis, and of original ideas? How can we be loudly proclaiming the importance of information technology and at the same time attempting to stem the flow of the single most liberating product of this technology?

One of the greatest leaders of all time* put it quite eloquently :

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
– John F. Kennedy

But perhaps Jefferson puts it a lot more elegantly :

Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.
– Thomas Jefferson

I can’t agree more.

*Imo, he deserves that for being 1 of 2 people responsible for preventing nuclear holocaust on earth.



1. Tim - May 18, 2007

Well at least we’re not like Egypt.

I have a slightly more optimistic view of the Malaysia public (at least the more urban ones). They’re starting to smell the fishies..

2. Wilz - May 18, 2007

Thank goodness we’re nowhere near there. Yet. From your link :

“And so the choice to blog is not only serious, but necessary.”

How true.

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