March 12, 2012 –World Day Against Cyber-Censorship was held and participated in by various groups and individuals online around the world, thanks to prime mover Reporters Without Borders, an organisation against media censorship based primarily throughout Europe and Asia. The event was also supported by the company with one of the biggest stores of user-produced content and influence to web design, Google. According to the official website of World Day Against Cyber-Censorship the event is “intended to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all”. The site goes on to state, “Never have so many countries been affected by some form of online censorship, whether arrests or harassment of netizens, online surveillance, website blocking or the adoption of repressive Internet laws.” The event then is not only a movement to support freedom of speech within the web, but is also a tribute to those who have been imprisoned for exercising this freedom for the greater good.
The official site of World Day Against Cyber-Censorship features many useful pieces of information, including their list of countries that have put the heaviest restrictions to freedom of speech and expression on the internet, as well as a map of Cyber-Censorship that reveals which areas are suffering the most online repression. A look into the website of Reporters Without Borders reveals even more information and stories from all around the world, bringing to light the plight of many journalists and free-thinkers of various nations and how uncensored online information has helped countless of suffering citizens across Asia and the Middle East.
Spreading positivism amidst this negative issue, Reporters Without Borders in partnership with Google also gave out the Netizen Prize as one of the event’s main activities. The Prize is awarded to a blogger, online journalist or cyber-dissident who has helped promote freedom of expression on the internet.
For those who wanted or would like to participate in some small way to the cause, the event’s website provides colourful logos for anyone to download and post to show their support for an Internet without restrictions. A link is also provided which leads visitors to a temporary website dedicated to combating cyber-censorship, called Cyber Tag. According to the site, Cyber Tag allows “Internet users to pin messages on virtual versions of the embassies of the 10 countries that Reporters Without Borders has identified as ‘Enemies of the Internet’... [it] invites Internet users to stage virtual demos outside the embassies of their choice and to leave messages on their facades”. In this way, a clear message is given to these institutions with no unnecessary and unfortunate bloodshed often resulting from live protests.
In anticipation of this year’s World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, an entry written by Google’s Senior Vice President for Global Communications and Public Policy Rachel Whetstone was posted on Google’s official blog last Friday. The post basically gave a review and outline of the company’s stand regarding free expression and controversial content which was first released four years ago. Though the company has expressed support for the event, their post expressed a less aggressive stance to free expression on the Internet, stating that there are certain limits to what content they allow particularly when it comes to sensitive subjects. “We recognize that there are limits,” writes Whetstone, “In some areas it’s obvious where to draw the line... But in other areas, like extremism, it gets complicated because our products are available in numerous countries with widely varying laws and cultures.” Whetstone goes on to say that while they encourage web users to express themselves freely, they still want to ensure that people do so responsibly, thus the setting up of guidelines. With Google having such a huge influence on website development as well as the responsible use and distribution of information on the Internet, it sounds just about right that the company would express a more balanced stance regarding free expression online.
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