The Week In Review

The protests in Burma this past week highlighted the Internet as a tool for political activism, with images and videos posted on social networking sites and blogs drawing international attention to the Burmese pro-democracy movement.  The information available from online sites prompted the military regime to turn off the Internet within the state.  While this may have disrupted communications and information flows, the Internet blackout had not caused an information blackout.  The use of other technological tools, such as satellite imagery of the region, provided an alternative means with which to communicate the events unfolding in Burma. 

The Burmese pro-democracy movement brought forth the significance of information communication technology to further the political efforts of the pro-democracy protestors.  The use of social networking sites, such as YouTube and Burmese blogs, was able to extend the protest and political message outside of the state to the international community.  The military regime ruling the region, in an attempt to create a closed information society, attempted to turn off information communication technology.  The ‘just-in-time’ internet filtering delayed but did not prevent information from being revealed about the situation.  The media crackdown was short lived and difficult to sustain due to the flexibility of information communication technologies. 

The idea of a closed information society is an outdated notion in the information age due to the adaptive nature of information communication technologies.  One of the themes of this weeks articles is the right of access to information; in the Burmese protests, access to information, a UN declared human right, was infringed due to the Internet being turned off at a politically convenient point in time.  The violation of access to information was also witnessed with the confiscation of video cameras and cell phones, with which citizen journalists attempted to inform those outside the region on the events unfolding within.  A second prevelent theme was that of right of privacy and security.  The technological equipment used to capture images was confiscated for those in the Burmese region.  The right to privacy was similarly violated in the Bangladesh region, in which authorities went door to door to collect passwords and login information of those with high speed internet.  Thus, in one sense, the politics of the Internet may have little to do with being online.   

The Internet has become an effective tool of political protest.  Jeffrey Ayres notes that the Internet is a tool which has a widespread, global audience which can efficiently diffuse information regarding political protests [Ayres, Jeffrey. “From the Streets to the Internet: The Cyber-Diffusion of Contention,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  566: 1999, 132-143.]  Whereas Ayres observes the use of email to facilitate political activism in a somewhat coordinated and organized method, the Burmese pro-democracy protests used the Internet in a different manner.  While the Burmese protests may not have been organized by emails, the use of the Internet as a political communication tool was clearly evident as well as its political impact both within and outside of the region.

Although the right of access to information was infringed due to the military regime turning off the Internet, the Internet became a central tool of political communication for the pro-democracy movement.  The current events articles of the past week demonstrated the effects of the efforts of bloggers and civil society in an attempt to disseminate information across borders and reach the international community.

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