Now more than ever, the world is at risk of suffering censorship at the hands of rogue and authoritarian governments. It is especially the case in this pandemic where authoritarian governments are taking advantage of the situation to put in place stricter measures and controls in terms of information. Governments intent on censoring information can easily do so on allegations of curbing misinformation or protecting against harmful content, especially now that globally, most children are at home and not in school. These times call for engaging parenthood to ensure that children stay away from harmful online content. As we stay-in, we should be sure to stay safe online. However, the falsification of intent by dictatorial governments to allow for censorship is wrong.
What We’ll Discuss On This Article:
- Current Pandemic
- Election Interference
- Hong Kong
- Mass Surveillance
- Government Longevity
- Information Access
The circumstances created by the current pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have meant that more and more of us are indoors and are more likely to be accessing information online or on the media. The rate of online information access is most definitely higher now than before the pandemic. This increase in online activity has meant that more and more people have had the opportunity and reach to access information that would otherwise not reach them. Unfortunately, some of this information has criticized authoritarian governments, especially on issues relating to COVID-19. Such governments and especially authoritarian ones will then react to this surge of information intake by blocking specific sites or even whole social networking sites, as a way to ensure that they curb the spread of information criticizing the parties in power or their legislation.
With the interference of the U. S election and other political contests across Europe in 2016 caused by Ransomware, more and more governments have inclined to a more authoritarian model of curbing Cybercrime. In countries like China, they prevent citizens access to information they deem malicious and spreading propaganda, which in this case, is information critiquing the government. The government restricts websites that talk about Tibetan and Taiwan independence, police brutality, freedom of speech, religious movements, pornography, and various blogging websites. According to Human Rights Watch, the government of China continues to go against international laws of freedom of press and freedom of expression by oppressing bloggers, journalists, and their citizens. There have also been allegations of the use of smartphone applications such as WeChat and TikTok as tools to acquire personally identifiable information by the communist government. Companies including Huawei have also come under a lot of heat for their alleged association and ties with the Chinese government. We should protect ourselves from such surveillance and even generally from online bullying.
Hong Kong has suffered the brunt of China’s clampdown on dissent. The situation has also been perpetrated by the new security law that heavily penalizes government-opposition of any kind. The communist government of China has put in place fervent and intrusive technological and legislative systems to muzzle the democratic voices of Hong Kong. There is now an intelligence office in Hong Kong specifically mandated to oversee the arrests and prosecution of individuals who are alleged to break the tenets of the new security law. Such actions have infuriated citizens and has prompted numerous waves of protests around Hong Kong, building on earlier protests before COVID-19 broke out. Citizens should remain brave in the fight and not relent.
Censorship has become increasingly weaponized as a way that authoritarian governments muzzle opponents and critics. The same can holds for numerous governments all over the world that have resorted to censorship as a way to clamp down on dissidents and critics. China especially has gone to the extreme extent of persecuting the Uighur minority in Xing Jiang. There are allegations that anywhere from eight hundred thousand to two million Uighurs are imprisoned in internment camps. The government alleges that these camps are ‘re-education camps’ and has released numerous propaganda films purporting that the detained Uighurs are happy and want to be there. Such clampdown is wrong, and the international community has come down heavily on China for this breach of international laws and the conventions of human rights.
Censorship is used in other places all over the world as a way to justify the intense mass surveillance of citizens. Numerous technologies are deployed to ensure that authoritarian governments effectively spy on their citizens. Again, China has notoriously used technology to spy on its citizens. They have also introduced a social security system and creditworthiness scale as a way to ensure that dissidents and critics are incapacitated financially, and are unable to acquire credit or travel. Technology should only be in use for good, in my view, and when a government goes to the extent of asking people to install spying applications on their phones, that is wrong. When entering Xingjiang, journalists and foreigners are required to install spying apps on their phones and are monitored carefully using the intense mass surveillance technology deployed there. I must say, the people of China are not the problem, and it is the methods of the communist government that are the issue. Please let us refrain from any hate of any kind.
Countries such as Russia have also deployed such crude tactics as a way to ensure the longevity of their authoritarian governments and to clampdown on dissent. Russia, especially, has treated dissidents ruthlessly and often arrests them on false allegations. The recent display of such arrogance was the arrest of a governor who the authoritarian government wanted to remove from power. The governor was arrested, charged, and quickly replaced. Recently, Belarus has adopted such clampdown tactics and has, in turn, arrested protestors and mercilessly beaten them over the last few days and weeks. The demonstrators have been up in arms after allegations that the recently held election in the country has been rigged and that the incumbent did not win the election fairly. His opponent was permanently exiled and is now calling on protestors to up the ante.
Social media and internet companies are censored in some parts of the world. Google censorship and Facebook censorship has denied millions of people access to information in places such as Kashmir, where citizens have effectively gone into internet blackout. The same holds for countries such as Ethiopia, which are known to turn off internet connectivity on a whim effectively. Nations such as Sudan have previously also faced similar circumstances as a way to clamp down on protests.
The beautiful thing is that more and more people are now savvy with technological devices and can effectively find ways to go around partial censorship. Such ability means that when authoritarian or dictatorial governments shut down access to some sites, the users can share information effectively, using alternative websites or applications. For instance, as information shared on Facebook is accessible by such governments and is publicly available, protestors and citizens can use sharing applications such as Telegram to send encrypted messages. These apps and technologies are very crucial, especially in situations where there is police brutality and protestors need to warn each other of oncoming riot police. The adoption of technology and technological devices has played a considerable role in this and allows all of us to escape or maneuver the chains of censorship. Most of us are now able to follow usage instructions for various smartphones and applications, as a way to bolster technology
There is a cultural aspect to censorship, and countries such as Iran have effectively censored part of their internet for cultural purposes. Religion also has played a role, and religious beliefs in some parts of the world, including Kashmir, have led authorities to block out some internet sites. Censorship also occurs in the form of media censorship, where authoritarian governments either control the media or close down media houses that criticize them. An excellent example of such clampdown is the Philippines, where the government has been keen to fight back against media personalities and companies that criticize it. Media censorship is particularly crude as it cuts off access to news and vital information for millions of people. The media is an institution that democracy relies on to ensure that there are checks and balances. It should, therefore, be protected to ensure that correct, unfiltered, and unaltered information reaches citizens and those who seek it. Media censorship and censorship as a whole goes against social justice and is an injustice to citizens.
The world today is better due to the information that is now accessible to all of us. Advancements in technology have meant that I can reach out to you in this blog and share with you various subjects. We have become a better world by having access to information as we do and having the freedom to access it at will. Such access is very crucial to how well we, as a people, can acquire knowledge and understanding. Part of this is getting accurate information that can be relied upon, even about governments or entities that are accused of doing wrong. Through such information sharing, we can all allege to be living in democratic societies with governments that allow citizens rights and freedoms. Any censorship and restrictions to information access are the complete opposite of this and is envisaged as a form of oppression and the denial of freedom of expression.
Censorship is also encapsulated in misinformation, where entities intending to mislead and misconstrue information have effectively created falsified news and information and shared it. Such information is masqueraded as authentic information and is designed to mislead and create intense feelings against particular entities or leaders. Such are the tactics used in election interference where one party will soil the reputation of their opponents using misinformation. A good example is a current debate on mail voting in the U.S and how the issue is politicized. Pres. Trump alleges that mail voting would infringe on the integrity of the vote and has vowed to hold back funding for the U.S Postal Service. Such action is misinformation as there has not been any evidence on any mail voting fraud or fraudulent activities with voting via mail. Those who deal in misinformation are also keen to embarrass and scandalize their opponents. They are able to do this through the release of sensitive and personal data such as emails. It could be done as an attempt to discredit the values of the opposing candidate and is wrong. Misinformation is a form of censorship, and those who deal in it, be it groups, alleged ‘troll farms’ or individuals, should be arrested and prosecuted as per the relevant laws. Censorship in any form is wrong and we should call it out for what it is. Protests are a form of exercising the freedom of expression and, when done peacefully, can bring dynasties to their knees.