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Sakmongkol ak 47

ariff.sabri@gmail.com

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Internet as Propaganda tool

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were helped by the information produced on the internet. Bloggers wrote about the abysmal conditions in the two countries. People took to the streets and confronted the government calling it to account for itself. In the end, the two authoritarian regimes- or the governments that have been dishing out the 'smack of a firm government' in the 2 countries fell.

What happened in the 2 countries before the revolutions? As in many authoritarian regimes they have a long and successful history of control over information and communication technologies. The conventional media means- newspapers, TV and radio represent the old school means of information control and behavior forming means. Investigative reportage was selective.

Nowadays, governments all over have to contend with a more contemporary means of information and communication- the internet.

Future wars will be fought over the minds of people in cyberspace. I am saying, despite the promises of the government, there will be continued attempts at corralling netizens. I don't think those who post their opinions and thinking on the net fear government challenge if they come in the form of reasoned arguments. What they fear is when the government finds itself inadequate to deal with the 'bloggers on the other side', they resort to coercive measures.

In what form do challenges to the state emerge from Internet? They come from several areas: the mass public, civil society, the economy, and the international community. Realizing this, governments respond to these challenges with a variety of reactive measures. These included restricting Internet access, filtering content, monitoring online behavior, or even prohibiting Internet use entirely.

In addition, some governments seek to extend central control through proactive strategies, guiding the development of the medium to promote their own interests and priorities. The recent respectable sounding meeting of Asean bloggers may be likened to a proactive measure by the Malaysian government. Further respectability is secured by the attendance of a much loved former PM who is regarded as responsible for bringing Malaysia into the internet age and the current PM. The current PM promised freedom of the internet.

Can a matter-of- factly spoken comment such as I do not fear the internet be an admission of openness? Well, the way to hell is often paved with good intentions. It would be foolhardy for any government to not try to control the internet. Even a disarming reverse psychological olive-branched approach is already a means to control. It is sufficient to rally some groups to a cause.

Why would any government want to control internet usage? They want and do because competing thoughts can challenge their longevity. If they can't do it the hard way such as direct banning and restriction (which they can't anyway), they will do it the soft way. I must admit, there is nothing wrong with such an approach. Netizens according themselves the freedom of speech and writing on the internet must also accord the same privilege to the government. They do what they must to defend their positions. Netizens do what they must to offer either support or rejection of official policies.

How does usage of the internet affect how governments conduct their business? In order to know of the impact, we need to ask the following questions. Who is using the Internet, and for what purposes? What challenges to the state are likely to arise from this use, and how will the state respond? And finally, is the state proactively guiding the development of the Internet so that the medium serves state interests? In a study undertaken by some scholars, the following should be instructive.

Mass public. Taking an example of what took place in Eastern Europe, public access to ICTs may facilitate a "demonstration effect," whereby exposure to outside ideas or images of transitions in other countries spurs a revolution of rising expectations and the eventual overthrow of the authoritarian regime. Alternatively, use of e–mail, Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards, and the World Wide Web may contribute to "ideational pluralism" and a more gradual liberalization of the public sphere in authoritarian countries.

Civil society organizations. Civil society organizations (CSOs) may use the Internet to support their activities in a variety of ways, including logistical organization and the public dissemination of information. In many cases CSOs play a crucial role in undermining authoritarian regimes, either by pressing for an initial political opening or by triggering scandals that delegitimize authoritarian rule. Likewise, CSOs may rise up to overwhelm a controlled process of top–down liberalization after an initial opening has been permitted.

Economy. Internet use in the economic sphere may pose multiple challenges to authoritarian rule. The Internet may present significant opportunities for entrepreneurship in a developing economy, possibly leading to the emergence of new domestic business elite. In addition, if the Internet contributes to economic growth, more generally it may facilitate the growth of a middle class. Both of these forces may place increasing demands on the regime that that challenge its control of society .

International community. The coercive efforts of foreign governments and multilateral institutions, through such measures as the imposition of sanctions and extension of conditional loans and aid, are frequently an influential factor in democratization. Transnational advocacy networks of CSOs, social movements, the media, and other actors outside of the target country often play a key role in mounting campaigns for such decisive action, and use of the Internet is often crucial to the success of their activities.

States also seek to exert control over the Internet in another fashion; they do so proactively by guiding Internet development and usage to promote their own interests and priorities. proactive strategies attempt to develop an Internet that is free from such challenges while also consolidating or extending state authority. These strategies may involve efforts to distribute propaganda on the Internet, both domestically and internationally; build state–controlled national Intranets that serve as a substitute for the global Internet; implement e–government services that increase citizen satisfaction with the government; and, even strengthen state power on an international scale by engaging in information warfare, such as hacking into Web sites and spreading viruses.

Perhaps the hooray for our side boys may want to look at One Malaysia E mail from another perspective?

4 comments:

OneMalaysian,  27 April 2011 at 13:39  

Dear Sakmongkol

“The conventional media means - newspapers, TV and radio represent the old school means of information control and behavior forming means. Investigative reportage was selective”.

This is precisely the situation we have here. BN component parties or their supporters control the main print media. Utusan and NST are UMNO-owned, and The Star by the MCA. They have lost credibility as unbiased media investigating and reporting the truth, but serve merely as party propaganda machines. It is therefore no coincidence that the alternative media hosted on the Internet is gaining greater currency.

Does this make the Internet a propaganda tool? There are two conditions to be met if that statement were to be true. First, there must be absolute, or near absolute control, by the party or government of that media to enable it to spread false ideas or lies to influence public behaviour. Second, the people must believe that what the government is saying is true or desirable.

Everyone knows that the Internet is very hard to control without causing great unintended harm to the economy. It will harm investments, both foreign and local; it will harm knowledge acquisition, and we want to have a knowledge-based economy; and it will lead to greater political repression, taking the whole country into the dark ages. This is not the way forward for any country that wants to progress. Thus, without control, the Internet cannot possibly become a propaganda tool.

The fact that most savvy, young or knowledgeable Malaysians have turned to the Internet for real news and views proves that they don’t believe what the government or the main print media is reporting. So the government has a big credibility issue here. Many don’t read the op-ed pages and editorials in those papers any more. Instead they read the debates that rages in the blogs. For those who trawl the Internet, there is the gamut of opinions and views on politics, some supporting and some against the government. That’s how things should be – a wide-ranging debate on both sides, and people are free to form their own opinions.

A healthy democracy relies on a free, fair and unbiased media so that the public is properly informed. Dictatorships, on the other hand, have a desire to control information and behaviour. But dictatorships, as we have recently seen in North Africa and the Middle East, are fast going the way of the dodo.

PH Chin 27 April 2011 at 16:32  

Dato'

The internet has changed the communication landscape forever. Smart government will embrace it and flourish. Those who oppose it will be overwhelmed in the end.

The power is now in the hand of the people and it will be difficult for government to control or regulate it.

As for 1 Malaysian email, most of us see it but an eavesdropping tool by the government on the 'rakyat'

Anonymous,  28 April 2011 at 13:59  

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives; It is the one that is most adaptable to change.' - Charles Darwin

kluangman 28 April 2011 at 17:04  

Banyak kerja kerja rasmi PM telah di ambil alih oleh Rosmah maka terpaksalah Najib mencari tugasan baru - maka terjadilah seperti yang Dato' katakan.

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