And Bloggers Pay the Price for Free Speech Online
Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye. There are no editorial threads implied connecting these items together, other than being interesting.
#1 Terrorists Move to Social Media. The open-source group Public Intelligence recently reprinted a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report that explores how extremist groups are moving into open social networks. Taking Facebook as a case study, report authors find that terrorist groups:
“…are increasingly using Facebook, one of the largest, most popular and diverse social networking sites, both in the United States and globally, to propagate operational information, including IED recipes primarily in Arabic, but in English, Indonesian, Urdu and other languages as well.”
What exactly could a jihadi do on such a public platform? Other than sharing tactical information, the authors say social networks can serve as a gateway to other extremist groups, provide an outlet for propaganda or other “extremist ideological messaging,” and aid in remote reconnaissance.
While groups like al Qaida have been using digital media for years – witness As-Sahab. What’s new here is that the porous, connecting nature of social networks hasn’t been seen as particularly terrorist-friendly…up until now.
So the next time “Osama bin Laden” sends you a “friend” request, you may want to think twice.
#2 Bloggers Punished for Speech: Two stories of bloggers’ fight for free speech got our attention this week; the first in Thailand.
In the Thai Kingdom, the laws and taboos against Lese Majeste – or speaking ill of the King – are very strict. So sensitive, in fact, is Bangkok to perceived slights against King Bhumibol Adulyadej that the government blocks large portions of the Internet and makes frequent requests to sites such as YouTube to pull any material they consider insulting or defamatory.
So when Thai blogger Chiranuch Premchaiporn was accused of allowing 10 anti-royal comments on her blog Prachatai.com, it was unlikely she would escape with just a wrist-slap. Now at trial, she faces up to 50 years in prison.
What’s unusual about her case, however, is it’s the first brought in Thailand not for what a blogger said, but for what others said on that blogger’s site. “This is intimidation through the legal process,” she told editors of the blog New Mandala, continuing:
“If I believe in internet freedom… then I know that it’s the wrong direction, to control the internet. It will undermine the internet itself… The concept of the internet is openness. But this doesn’t mean we don’t need to do anything to control it. The internet is a new kind of media, that introduces new cultures, and new communities, other societies – the internet as a society. These kinds of society need experience, to find their norms, to find some kind of consensus.”
Also this week, 19-year-old Syrian blogger Tal Al-Molouhi was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly spying for a foreign government. Arabic bloggers have been quick to express solidarity with Al-Molouhi, and her sentencing was denounced by the U.S. State Department.
VOA’s Cecily Hilleary spoke with another Syrian blogger now in the United States – Anas Qtiesh – about his experiences trying to speak freely online in Syria; you can also listen to the complete interview here:
#3: Politics Moves Online: Another colleague, VOA’s William Ide, spent some time exploring how various social media companies are responding to their increasing use as a tool for political or social change. The answer depends on the company. He writes:
“Jillian York, who is with Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says many Internet companies did not build themselves up with the idea that they would be used for activism.
‘Each company at some point has to decide whether or not they are going to take a strong stand on these issues. We’ve sort of seen Google doing that, both with pulling out of China last year and, more recently, they’ve held an Internet freedom conference. Google seems fairly comfortable in that role. Facebook perhaps less so. And then Twitter, I would say, is almost somewhere in the middle,’ York said.”
#4 Let’s Keep It Clean Out There: Finally, news this week that may cause people online to think twice about what they post on friend’s Facebook walls. At least in Dubai.
As noted by GulfNews, two foreign nationals – 35-year-old American engineer “Q.T.” and 44-year-old British businesswoman “A.K.” were found guilty of “exchanging insults of a sexual nature on the Facebook online social network.” Q.T. was fined approx. $775 , while A.K. was sentenced in absentia.
Reporter Bassam Za’za summed up the issue this way:
“When Q.T. appeared before the court he pleaded guilty, claiming that he only insulted A.K. because she insulted him first. Prosecution records showed that the American insulted the Briton by asking to have sex with her in a certain way. The businesswoman insulted him back by asking him to have sex with his mother.”
Lesson? It’s best not to fight in public – online or off. Let’s be careful out there.