Internet Introduces Freedom In Authoritarian States

August 7, 2002

Their governments don't like it, but citizens of such countries as Iran and China are turning to the Internet to exchange forbidden ideas and taste a measure of freedom denied them in everyday life. And the authorities have found there isn't much they can do about it.

  • An estimated two million Iranians on any given day log on to Yahoo chat networks to discuss forbidden topics like hip-hop music and feminism -- and a world of scientific and technological information is only a mouse-click away for those with more serious tastes.
  • Although the government has launched several failed attempts to filter Web sites and restrict them, the Internet is providing access to ideas and forums that run counter to Iran's fundamentalist theocracy.
  • Nearly every university in the nation is now wired to the global network, as are hundreds of elementary schools and high schools.
  • Normally forbidden sexual topics are popular and the Internet is about the only safe haven for expressing criticism of the government.

In Communist China, it is actually easier and cheaper for a resident of Beijing to hook up with the Internet than it is for most Americans.

  • The World Wide Web is available for 36 cents an hour, payable with the phone bill.
  • Private citizens in China were granted access to the Internet in 1995, and in a largely futile effort the authorities channeled all incoming Internet traffic through filters that blocked out objectionable sites like those of Playboy, the Dalai Lama and the New York Times.
  • Observers report that the Internet has undermined people's dependence on the government-controlled media.
  • But newly-trained "Internet police" patrol Web sites and chat rooms, weed out seditious thought and pornography, and read the e-mail of those suspected of crimes.

Sources: Nazila Fathi, "Taboo Surfing: Click Here for Iran..." and Erik Eckholm "...And Click Here for China," both in the New York Times, August 4, 2002.

 

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