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Entries in civil society (2)


US support for online freedom jars 

“Dictator’s dilemma” is a nice phrase, but Hillary Clinton’s offer to help internet freedom around the world has a hollow ring.

Clinton has promised $25m to help people evade government internet controls, on top of the $20m the State Department spent last year. Repressive governments will “have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing,” Clinton said.

That’s the dilemma – but the fact is it’s not just one for dictators.

As Clinton made her grand speech, the US government was in court trying to pry open Twitter accounts to identify those associated with Wikileaks.  A secret grand jury has been convened to find grounds for a criminal case against Wikileaks’ Julian Assange (so far they have found none.)

Meanwhile, the US House of Representative has just voted to extend some domestic spy provisions of the Patriot Act, Wired reports. Tomorrow administration officials are expected to testify before a House subcommittee about the need to expand the wiretap laws to cover BlackBerry, Facebook and Skype.

Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 plan, has some nice ideas (and it's intriguing that when first announced 15 months ago it focused on North Africa and the Middle East) but US still faces the same dilemmas as everyone else. 


The China web: More than just ideotainment

More on the internet and civil society in China.

In an op-ed in SCMP Tuesday (sub. required), former Swedish Ambassador to China Borje Ljunggren goes through some of the recent literature*, noting that Chinese party-state is “pluralising [the] internet to its own advantage" and filling the media with “ideotainment.”

But quoting author Johan Lagerkvist, he also describes “an ongoing erosion of the party-state's power over civil society”, with a rise in activism and the formation of new social norms online and offline.

While censorship is absolutely central to the system, “its usage is increasingly exposed” as web users become aware of it, with the result that the idea of a “right to know” is taking shape in China's growing online civil society.

*  The Power of the Internet in China - Citizen Activism Online, Guobin Yang ;  After the Internet, Before Democracy - Competing Norms in Chinese Society and Media, Johan Lagerkvist; Changing Media, Changing China, Susan Shirk (ed.)