The recent explosion in new information and communications technology and the proliferation of easy-to-use, often free, software and low-cost methods of self-publishing ranging blogging to multimedia-sharing web applications, have turned Internet users into prosumers, propelling them to a position of potential competition with the mainstream media. Even more importantly, it has transformed them into citizen watchdogs tackling sensitive human rights issues and often serving as an unofficial media outlet for dissenting voices.
The blurring of the lines between citizen and professional journalism has also resulted in the former's increasing ability to sustain the work of human rights defenders and NGO’s through first-hand reporting of breaking news exposing human rights violations, torture and harassment. The recent success of this army of citizen journalists and citizen watchdogs in Pakistan, Burma, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, have confirmed once again the enormous potential of user-generated content as an advocacy tool and as an alternative and independent source of news. The common characteristic of all these cases is that they have made efficient use of web 2.0 technologies in exposing abuses and injustice.
But despite the potential of web 2.0, in regions ridden with censorship and where the state holds the monopoly on information dissemination, open access to the Internet is often a tough goal to achieve considering the “authoritarian reflex” that is activated each time the repressive regimes feel threatened. Governments who already excel at muzzling the traditional media have been turning their efforts lately to the Internet, doing all they can to tighten their grip on this last refuge of communication. The rise of user-generated content is perceived as a threat by a growing number of countries who are seeking to block and control its dissemination by legal and technical means. Rarely does a week pass by without news about yet another major website being blocked by repressive states. Multimedia-sharing websites, social networking communities, mapping tools and popular web 2.0 websites are becoming a primary target of state censorship in more and more countries.
Over the last half-year, governments in China, Tunisia, Syria, Turkey, Burma, Thailand and Morocco have all cut off access to video-sharing websites. In the space of two months, between September 3rd and November 2nd, 2007, Tunisia has blocked access to two popular video-sharing websites, Dailymotion and Youtube, preventing Tunisian Internet users from both viewing and posting videos. Both websites remain blocked in Tunisia. Access to the Flickr photo-sharing site was recently restored in China, but it remains blocked in Iran and in the United Arab Emirates. Metacafe and Photobucket are also banned in few Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
Blogging services are being targeted as well. Over the last three months, Turkey, Thailand and China have banned wordpress.com, while Blogspot is over-blocked in Syria and Pakistan and only recently restored in China. The Livejournal blogging service is blocked in Morocco and in Iran and it has been reported to be also blocked in China. Other popular services like Technorati, Blogrolling, Xanga, Movable Type, Typepad, Feedburner and Blogsome have been blocked on and off for the past couple of years in countries such as China and Iran.
Social networking websites like Orkut, Hi5, MySpace, Friendster, ZillR, Multiply, Facebook, Meetup, Digg and My Opera are banned or threatened in a number of countries. Even Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, have been blocked from time to time in China, in Tunisia and in Iran where the popular online retailer Amazon.com is reported to be blocked. Google Earth was blocked in Bahrain for a couple of days and remains inaccessible in Morocco.
Fortunately, against this substantial and highly restrictive filtering system targeting web 2.0 tools being deployed by various countries worldwide, is resistance from numerous anti-Internet filtering movements. In almost every country where state censorship prevails is a corresponding anti-censorship initiative led by citizens. And in addition to rallying to protest censorship, local activists are also continuously working on new ways of bypassing the blocks, advocating to keep the web open and interacting with each other across linguistic and cultural borders and barriers.
In order to shed light on the battle being waged between state censorship and anti-censorship groups, I’ve created the Access Denied Map, an interactive Google Maps mashup that provides information about the censorship efforts targeting various online social networking communities and web-based applications. Each marker on the map highlights the situation in a specific country that is barring access to major websites. Clicking on the marker opens an information window containing text, images or video describing the nature censorship and the efforts to combat it.
The Map does not aim to index all kinds of web filtering, but rather to provide an overview of online censorship efforts related to the social web and major web 2.0 websites. This project will also track and explore the relationships between anti-censorship groups in different parts of the world who are collaborating to defend the right to access web 2.0 tools and websites.
The Access Denied Map will try to contextualize and situate that battle by focusing on two areas:
- the crackdown on web 2.0 websites (e.g. video and photo-sharing sites like Youtube, Flickr, Dailymotion; blogging platforms such as Blogspot, Livejournal, Typepad and WordPress; social networking websites such as Facebook, Orkut, MySpace, Wikipedia, VoIP services; etc.);
- the amplifying of local campaigns defending the right to access web 2.0 tools and websites (circumvention techniques, online petitions and campaign.)
The Access Denied Map will lead interested readers to content that enables them to support anti-censorship movements and keeps readers abreast of the filtering situation in various parts of the world. It will also facilitate collaboration between activists, allowing them to find each other, share tactics and strategies and experiences.
The Map was created using data from the Open Net Initiative (ONI), Global Voices and the Global Voices Advocacy section. The Access Denied Map does not pretend to be exhaustive. Help expand and improve it by adding information about the filtering of web 2.0 applications either via the Advocacy Wiki site or by e-mail through the contact page.