Free your mind by freeing the Internet

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The fight for legal licensing has long been lost since the days of Limewire and Kazaa, both peer to peer sharing applications which has given way to torrents. Music is shared rampantly and movies are easily obtained through streaming websites. But that is not the case with the case of the dissemination of information.

While the media has always leaned one way or the other and likely to be prejudiced. It is usually not at all as objective as the public would like to believe, which, the internet propagates via a false sense of freedom. One person believing that they have access to all data is as dangerous as ignorance.

A politics professor at New York University claims that governments have long employed the use of censorship in a bid to quash dissent and it has proven to be highly effective. However, the only reason that social media has been unchecked for so long is due it being fairly new and “people who run these regimes are old”.

The resources the internet has to offer is as limited as the companies that host websites and the governments that seek control. Take for example the search engine Google that reserves its right to omit results if the websites are believed to be unlawful or if they “do not meet Google’s quality guidelines“.

According to predictions, America is heading in the way of harsh censorship. The current president signed a bill to release internet service providers from the requirement of protecting the data of their consumers which would leave them vulnerable to surveillance and have their privacy compromised.

The Department of Homeland Security attempted to retrieve information from Twitter regarding a user who has voiced dissent over the platform. This led to Twitter suing the federal department. While the government has withdrawn its request, it is not the first time governments have had its disputes with social media – a database of consumer information.

There are many examples of governments from around the world and their attempts at quelling the power of social media. From the infamy of China’s “Great Firewall” to Mugabe raising the rates of mobile data so they are unaffordable to the general public. This backfired as it affected the government officials as much as its citizens and the price increase was revoked just days later.

The most affective regime is no doubt in China whereby they have developed a separate version of the internet where mainstream social media does not exist. While it is still possible to access those social media websites from inside the country, via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), here is where China’s genius lies: instead of merely blocking the world-famous platforms which has taken the internet by storm, they replaced them with their own version. Weibo instead of Facebook and Baidu instead of Google.

In other countries, while censorship is not as rampant, there are certain websites inaccessible from certain geographical locations but there are always workarounds such as in China. VPNs are able to unblock websites and grant the user access. However, to the ordinary citizen, it seems much too tedious over information which most likely would not have much effect over their lives. Therefore, choosing to forgo it. In the event the average person might choose to use a VPN is mostly to access illicit material over the internet in an attempt to stay anonymous or to bypass restrictions on licensed material.

VPNs or Virtual Private Networks functions by establishing a connection through dedicated servers and provides a secure connection for its users. Without a VPN, it is akin to having someone recording your every movement on the internet. There is zero privacy when you are logged on and furthermore, without encryption, every line is vulnerable to hackers. This is why it is gaining popularity, due to consumers increasing awareness over the dissemination of their personal data and their desire to protect it.

The Chinese government plans to achieve “internet sovereignty” in 2018 and blocking the use of VPNs entirely. This might prove to be disastrous for the country which has suffered for its communism and oppression that went hand in hand. The propaganda of Chairman Mao’s regime has followed China into the present. However, this blockade of information would also prevent scholars and scientists from benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd – or in this case, the rich history and experiences of the world.

As Guardian reports, “for years Chinese researchers have complained they lack adequate access to overseas journals and methods to communicate with universities around the world, while developers rely on code hosted on websites based outside China.”

This is something which might be viewed as completely detrimental, but the fact remains that China has been able to rebuild from scratch and rise from virtually nothing to becoming one of the main players in the global economy. Perhaps even one who holds the most chips. But perhaps China would have been greater if not for the brutal censorship pressed down onto its people.

Information is power and a human right. While governments might struggle to retain control over its people, it goes without saying that if they are doing it through unscrupulous means, perhaps it is an unfit to govern any people.

One Response to “Free your mind by freeing the Internet

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    2 years ago

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