Monday, August 17, 2009
Giving a voice to "digital refugees"
For the past year, citizens of Georgia, a country located in Eastern Europe, have struggled to express themselves freely online. While engaged in military conflicts, Georgians have simultaneously experienced a series of Internet service disruptions. And as a result, Georgians are periodically unable to get online and access certain websites -- blogging platforms in particular. These Internet service disruptions were compounded by a Denial of Service attack -- an attempt to completely cut off Internet access in Georgia -- this month.
Evgeny Morozov from the Open Society Institute has been following Georgian Blogger CYXYMU for some time now, chronicling how he's migrated from one blogging platform to the next in hopes of getting his message out after each blog is shut down by cyber opponents. Sparking interesting discussions around the concept of "digital refugees," CYXYMU's plight has recently become a hot topic in the blogosphere.
Morozov notes in his blog post that there may be many other bloggers facing situations similar to that of CYXYMU whose stories haven't been told. It's becoming easier to attack stand-alone blogs and websites, and much like political refugees, these bloggers and their sites are targeted and forced to relocate or be silenced. Consequently, bloggers are fleeing to higher profile sites like Twitter (and Blogger, among others) in order to continue exercising their right to free expression.
As censorship techniques and online attacks become more pervasive, it's clear that fundamental Internet freedoms are at stake. In the case of CYXYMU, entire services were knocked offline in order for one user to be silenced. This goes to show how far suppressive groups will go in order to impede on free speech.
Google collaborated with the other targeted services -- LiveJournal, Twitter and Facebook -- to help identify the origins of the attacks and minimize their impact. While Blogger was able to withstand the attack this time around, we hope that governments and companies will recognize the threats to free expression that exist today and will work together to ensure that the Internet continues to provide many safe havens for dissidents.