NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Where Tyrants Rule the Internet

August 23, 2001

High hopes that the Internet and the World Wide Web would undermine the world's most totalitarian regimes were overly optimistic, according to a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Focusing on China and Cuba, Carnegie researchers Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor Boas found that one-party states have become increasingly sophisticated in controlling political expression on the Internet and limiting access to it for hostile domestic critics.

  • Chinese chat-room administrators, for example, routinely employ monitors known as "Big Mamas" to screen and purge politically sensitive material.
  • While Fidel Castro's regime has strictly limited who can own a computer and who can open an Internet account, China's rulers have tried to tap into the commercial potential of the Web, while strictly patrolling the flow of information.
  • Officials at Amnesty International report that their Web site is routinely blocked in China.
  • The Cuban communist regime has used its decades of controlling traditional mass media outlets to confront cyberdissidents.

The Carnegie researchers say they are not claiming that the successful regimes of today will maintain their control in the long run -- only that at present effective control of the Internet is much more prevalent than conventional wisdom suggests.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are also developing censorship programs for Internet use. And the military junta in Burma is following the Cuban model in sharply limiting who can even own a computer and maintain an Internet account.

Source: David R. Sands, "Repressive Governments Able to Tame Internet," Washington Times, August 23, 2001; based on Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor C. Boas, "The Internet and State Control in Authoritarian Regimes: China, Cuba, and the Counterrevolution," Global Policy Program, Working Paper No. 21, July 2001, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 483-7600.


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