The Limits of Speech In Oman

Posted August 23rd, 2012 at 2:22 pm (UTC-4)
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And Mars Finds A New, Sarcastic Voice On Twitter

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

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.

 Several of our colleagues have been covering interesting angles on the Internet lately, and we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of their work.

#1: Dark Days In Oman. First, VOA’s Frances Alonzo has been exploring the recent crackdown on Internet expression in Oman. As reported first by Reuters, earlier this month an Omani court convicted eight citizens of “incitement” against the government for material they had written and posted online. Each of the eight were fined around $2,600 dollars US, and face up to a year in prison. The writers wrote critically on a number of issues, including the faltering economy, freedom of speech, and the performance of the Sultan of Oman, itself considered a serious offense.

In her podcast “Women Rising Francis spoke with several Omani analysts about the reasons for the recent crackdown, as well as a woman who says she was forced to turn her sister over to Omani officials for Internet crimes.  It’s a compelling interview and well worth a listen.

People from India’s northeastern states crowd a railway station after disembarking a train from the southern Bangalore city in Gauhati, Assam State, India, August 20, 2012.

#2: Social Media Panic In India. As we’ve discussed many times, social media is often a double-edged sword. On person’s information is another person’s falsehood; organizing a peaceful protest can just as easily been seen as plotting an attack, depending on who’s doing the seeing.

Recently the government of India accused several social networking sites such as Facebook, Google and others of spreading hateful and incendiary messages, creating strife and turmoil. Specifically, the Indian Ministry of Communications blamed a rash of postings for creating panic in the country’s northeast, causing thousands to flee their homes. The government formally requested the services take down unspecified posts, and blocked as many as 250 websites for posting “inflammatory and harmful content.”

VOA’s Anjana Pasricha takes a look at just what created all the fuss, and the current state of Indian law that some say gives the government too much power over free speech online. Who’s to blame, and what should be done are some of the questions explored.

He’s lonely. He’s bitter. He’s something of a hipster. He’s Sarcastic Rover.

#3: “I’m Doing A Science!”  NASA has been celebrating the recent successful landing of the new Mars rover “Curiosity” on the red planet. The rover is by far the most sophisticated robot yet sent into space, and the landing itself – by an untested “sky-crane” device – was as tense as it was thrilling. Curiosity became such a hit with the public, in fact, that mission staff created its own Twitter feed. With over a million followers, Curiosity has developed a decidedly upbeat persona. “First drive complete! This is how I roll: forward 3 meters, 90º turn, then back. Electric slide, anyone?” was one of its most recent, rather too-chipper tweets.

Yet as we know, the Internet doesn’t abide chipper for long. And thus was born “Sarcastic Rover,” a snide, lonely and occasionally foul-mouthed Twitter sibling to Curiosity. “Ready to drive 10 feet and then stop and stare at the ******* ground again. Thanks for the exciting adventure, NASA!” is but a recent example. Sarcastic Rover doesn’t have nearly as many Twitter followers (around 85,000) but he has his own Facebook fan page, and now t-shirts printed with his favorite expression “I’m Doing A Science!” on the front.

There’s no doubt Curiosity will teach us far more about Mars than we’ve ever known. But in the strange ways of the Internet, Sarcastic Rover – with all his humor, irony, bitterness and ennui – may just end up reminding us of some very human truths.




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