Web censorship regimes in mainland Southeast Asia are a regular topic of discussion here at New Mandala. Of course, anybody who spends time in Burma gets used to the government’s relatively consistent effort to block potentially subversive online material. And, jokes aside, since the coup of 2006 Thailand has also beefed up resources to clamp down on what is perceived to be politically, morally or culturally problematic Internet content. Some of the Thai-language sites that New Mandala regularly links to are intermittently blocked in the kingdom.
With this in mind, I was pleased to see that there has been a recent spurt of eye-opening coverage that puts the web censorship that occurs in countries like Thailand and Burma in a wider context.
The Wall Street Journal has produced an interactive map of the Asian region (all the way across to the Middle East) that gives a clear indication of the countries that have made the most substantial efforts to censor online content. The map is best examined in conjunction with an article by James Hookway that describes attempts to circumscribe access to certain kinds of Internet material in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. A recent article by Geoffrey Cain picks up similar themes and discusses the future of “Asia’s fragile cyber-democracies”. That piece has already been translated into Thai.
From where I sit, real-world politics are increasingly taking root in the fertile (but muddy) soil of the online world. This is happening almost everywhere. Repressive governments, of whatever stripe, will continue to fear the subversive potential of online content. In response, their filtering, censorship and intimidation will probably only become more sophisticated as they meet new and unforeseen online challenges.
For those of us who embrace the potential (and the pitfalls) of web-based analysis, debate and discussion these are issues that will need to be constantly reassessed. The future battlegrounds for politics, but also for academia and journalism, are fast taking shape online. These recent articles provide some helpful pointers about issues to keep in mind.