In the past censorship has been an extremely prominent issue. During the World War II and also during the Vietnam War, American and other Western powers had violently fudged with the true accounts of the wars. Figures had been manipulated and casualties under-estimated to make sure the public does not know about the horrible accounts of the war. Doing so would have polarized the situation at home and the families of the soldiers would have mounted pressures that would have breached their ‘national interests’. It was therefore considered better to hide everything from the general public.
Fast forwarding onto the 21st century, in today’s Information Age, it has become impossible to keep most of the information concealed in files and conversations. We have hackers adept at breaking through every security system in this world (makes me wonder whether security systems are made to be breached) and journalists who are eager to breach all sorts of protocol and hack into phone conversations (News of the World anyone?). But the power of the media has become truly manifested today through an extremely unorthodox yet revolutionary form.
Introducing: the social media. The Internet Age, along with a lot of pornography sites to destroy today’s teenagers, has also forged a powerful new tool called the social media. In this form of media it is impossible to keep any information hidden. No matter how censored the figures are or how much propaganda there is, a photo or a video taken through a cell-phone is enough to spread the issue into the social media and cause ripples across the globe. It is simply not possible for any government to keep any of its wrongdoings hidden and silenced due to this ubiquitous new revolution. ‘Time will open every hidden treasure’—-as the cliché goes, is really true for social media.
And this is why governments all across the globe are enraged at this tool. In fact they have a very good reason to be. Like for instance, if you haven’t been hibernating for the past few years you will have known that the Arab Uprising has been attributed mainly due to the existence of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and the blogging world. In this virtual new Universe people are constantly sharing their opinions and ideas, and protesting at any occurrences which shake their conscience. And the result has therefore been revolutionary. The protesters organized themselves and recruited others sharing their cause, and together they created the largest wall ever: the People’s Wall. Whether it was the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street Movement, people have truly been able to show the power they can yield if they are brought together under one roof. And a lot of credit goes to the social media sites for playing such an impeccable role in creating the People’s Wall.
Therefore the guillotine has been on social media for quite some time. As opposed to terms like ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘democracy’, many governments have implemented censorship on the social media. And the social networking sites, to help themselves do business with more comfy, have also decided to censor every thread or comment and are always deleting anything even remotely associated with ‘inspiring revolt’. In Egypt during the uprising, while the opposition leaders were hiding in caves, normal citizens, both males and females, were all abuzz on Twitter calling for protesters to organize and demonstrate at the required places. As a result bloggers like Mona Eltahaway were arrested for ‘inspiring violence’ while Facebook and Twitter were shut down temporarily to stop protesters from coordinating together before the regime finally came to an end.
Seeing what the social media has done in Egypt, neighboring dictators adorned all their alarms against the social networking sites. Bahrain has placed several bloggers under arrest for trying to demonstrate and recruit, and the military has crushed any opposition firmly. The famous Bahraini blogger, activist and human rights defender Zainab al-Khawaja(Angry Arabia) was arrested and detained when she staged an anti-government protest against the royal family. Another activist popularly known as ‘the Bahraini blogger’ has been sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment for ‘trying to inspire sectarian conflicts’ through his protestations.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where an 80-something King rules an economy with an average age of 19(yeah that is one big irony!) the thrashing has been more violent. A Saudi journalist who tweeted his misgivings about the Prophet on Eid-e-Miladunnabi was arrested by the Malaysian government in a Malaysian airport and extradited to Riyadh when he had tried to escape to New Zealand via Malaysia after receiving death threats in response to his tweet. Given the ancient state of laws in the Kingdom, which ironically is one of the wealthiest countries of the world, such apostasy will lead to a severe death sentence by the conservative Saudi court where the man will be beheaded in public. Armed with this tool of blasphemy, the Saudi Royalty and the pro-government religious leaders asked the religious Saudis to abandon Facebook and Twitter because they directly destroyed the Kingdom’s segregation and ‘Islamic customs’.
However, along with such propagation of information the social media is also always abuzz with all forms of irreverence. The Internet is flooded with Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sites. The aforementioned Saudi journalist should have known better than to tweet about his personal feelings about an issue that is likely to hurt the feelings of many others. After all, in a democratic country or not, this is what a responsible citizen should have done. And this man’s profession is supposed to be one of responsibility. Not of impiety.
Another Middle-Eastern scandal occurred when a female Egyptian blogger posed nude ‘to support her cause’ against the military. The girl, who calls herself an atheist, dubbed her action as appropriate ‘to ensure women’s rights and women’s struggle against the regimen’. Now, these are things that are horrendous for a conservative culture like that of the Middle-East and therefore attracted a lot of distaste from many societies. In short, ranting about rights is equal but people must know where to draw the line. I personally think this was simply a publicity stunt the girl undertook to make herself famous worldwide and increase her blog traffic!
I should also like to attract my reader’s attention to a recent event in Bangladesh which had caused quite a stir not in the traditional media, but in the social media. A professor who had wished for the country’s premier’s death on his facebook status was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. Although most of you here will rant about this being a consummate breach of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of speech’ in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh I will firmly disagree with you. Wishing someone’s death in public is not how a responsible citizen should behave no matter how much hatred you have for him or her. In a democracy people are supposed to learn to be responsible by themselves. Unlike a dictatorship you will not be forced to restraint yourself as much as possible. And this is our country’s prime minister we are talking about. The person might not necessarily be a paradigm of excellence but she is all we have. If we desire a change we should go forth and create a space for our ownselves, and not be a coward and wish the person to die. Most importantly I was awestruck that the status came from a professor, a person towards whom people look forward to and appreciate. Such irresponsibility should not be allowed to persist in the society.
It feels quite weird when I think about the persistent role of social media in our everyday lives. And this is why propaganda has entered the virtual Universe as well. But no matter where we are or how advanced, manipulated, infiltrated and tainted by disgust this area becomes it is our responsibility to discern the good from the bad and allow the free flow of truth and justice to perpetrate. It is easy to be filled by propaganda but I should say that social media is one of the most wonderful inventions of the 21st century.
As an ending note I should like to add a quote I came across recently:
“… you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”
The writer is an active participant at The Stream. This is a live,interactive,award-winning political show of Al Jazeera English(yup he is that nerd!) where viewers can participate through the Internet.In case you are nerd enough like him you might like to join in this program.
- Bahrain: One Year On (altahrir.wordpress.com)