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Propaganda and Censorship: Adapting to the Modern Age

A Chinese PLA Propaganda Poster.

A Chinese PLA Propaganda Poster. Courtesy of James Vaughan/flickr

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review (HIR) on 28 April 2016.

The role of propaganda and censorship is not as obvious as it may seem. From the infamous propaganda arm of North Korean government to the state-run media organizations in China and Russia, it is clear that the mechanisms and effectiveness of propaganda and censorship vary widely. During the height of propaganda in the twentieth century, authoritarian governments were able to craft strong, singular national narratives by propagating political messages in popular media while censoring those that conflicted with the government’s line of thought. With the advent of the digital age, Russia and China have been forced to develop their propaganda strategy to combat the newfound power of the average internet user, who can seek and share information at the instant click of a mouse. While the basics of propagandistic strategy have persisted, fundamental changes have occurred as a response to the paradigm shift in information sharing and seeking. » More

LNOTA – Media Self-Censorship to Fight Terrorism?

Could limited media coverage help fighting terrorism?

9/11 and media

What Al-Qaeda achieved on 9/11 was arguably not only the most extreme and effective terrorist attack ever carried out, but also a highly effective media spectacle with unprecedented return on investment. The loss of human life aside, Al-Qaeda was known all over the world within hours, at the cost of eleven airline tickets and some box-cutters. Indeed, Al-Qaeda, like other terrorist organizations, could count on the readiness of the world media to broadcast their acts to the world live on television and the internet, as well as in print. » More

US Internet Policy: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Censored, courtesy of gojira75/flickr

Last week, an article in Arab Crunch stated that internet users from Syria, Sudan, N Korea, Iran and Cuba were not allowed to access some services and sites. The US-based open source repository SourceForge is an example.

It must be said though that these countries are also known for their own site-blocking capabilities.

As always on the World Wide Web, nothing is certain. But the evidences point out that it is the US government that is prohibiting access to these websites. These five countries are subject to US sanctions, and as such, Washington is restraining internet access to users in these ‘blacklisted’ countries. It is also worth saying that 4 out of 5 of these countries are the one “sponsoring terrorism” (North Korea having been removed in 2008 following bilateral negotiation on non-proliferation).

But US companies and the citizens of the countries mentioned are not the only ones affected by the sanctions.
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Social Media Misers

The usual suspects according to ONI / Screenshot: OpenNet Initiative

The usual suspects according to ONI / Screenshot: OpenNet Initiative

The OpenNet Initiative, a partnership according to the site between “the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge; and the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University,” has posted an interactive map showing which countries filter or block particular social media sites. Facebook, Flickr, Orkut, Twitter and YouTube are the ones they focus on.

The usual culprits are represented: China intermittently blocks Facebook, Saudi Arabia totally blocks it; Saudi Arabia and Iran block Orkut (they seem to be the only two that care to do so); China and Iran block Twitter from time to time; and Indonesia apparently blocks YouTube off and on.

There are a couple of user-friendliness issues with the map: The pop-up that appears about a country when you hold your mouse over it seems to be too wide for the map window; and it would be nice to have instructions on how to navigate the map for those who aren’t click-savvy.

Not all countries have been tested though; hopefully that’s in the near future.

Other than those picky little things, ONI’s map is a great start, giving an interesting overview on which countries are extending their authoritarian might onto the internet.

One Person’s Dream and Another’s Nightmare

When in Milan last week, my eyes were seduced by big posters showing picturesque coastlines and romantic sceneries with ruins of antique temples in the foreground. Pure beauty, a pleasure for the eyes and the traveller in me craving. „Tunisia“ it said on the posters, „la vacanza piu’ vicina ai tuoi sogni“ – the holidays closest to your dreams.

Screenshot of tunisiaturismo.it

Screenshot of www.tunisiaturismo.it

My emotions still captured by the beautiful images, I started to realize that these were the work of the Tunisian tourist industry, which was running a big scale advertisement campaign in the Metropolitana, the Milanese underground. But not only there: On a piazza close to Milan’s famous Duomo Tunisia Turismo had built a tent where it presented the destination with music, food and folklore.

Whereas the latter seemed corny and did not appeal to me the posters did. But there was one problem. The beautiful images clashed in my head with the notion of Tunisia being a country where civil liberties have been restricted and where government censorship and self-censorship has infected the society. Over the last decade or so, Tunisia has become an autocratic regime under the rule of the president with the poetic name Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Nevertheless, in times when the Italian people seem to be hit hard by the economic crisis, the advertisers have a very good argument: “Tunisia, un Paese vicino, dall’atmosfera esotica”. Even though Tunisia is very close to Italy (read inexpensive to visit), it is an exotic place.

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