Working around censorship


The Internet is a wonderful and absolutely essential resource that needs to be looked after, managed well and secured so that it can deliver the vast benefits to humanity and more.

But along with that massive good that the Internet brings, there are aspects of the Internet which is deemed negative. I refer specifically to information available on the Internet that would be deemed by some parties to be against their interest.

I must make things clear that what I am talking about is freedom of speech and the freedom to read what I want. You are free to say what you want, and I have the right to ignore what you are saying if it is not true, is rude, is demeaning. If what one says is dangerous (like physical abuse), it is definitely not acceptable.

Let the marketplace of ideas flourish. It is in this petri dish of ideas that help sharpen viewpoints, surface unthought of possibilities. When there is a contest of ideas (could be done using a platform like kialo and no, it is not an open source tool (yet)) are entered into, amazing things can and will surface. That’s the beauty of keeping things open and inviting.

The Internet brings forth many angles about things, but like it is in real life, not everyone will have spent time and effort on getting a full understanding (perfect information) , but at least, there is a much higher chance that everyone could have opportunity to get to that level.

The debates around falsehoods and dubious information on the Internet is nothing new. Falsehoods have always been part of the human condition. There is a Tamil saying “a thousand lies can be said for the sake of a marriage” or something like that.

The way societies have tackled falsehoods is via laws that can be invoked to address it. Laws that address fraud and libel are generally what gets invoked. It is a difficult thing to have to go to court around a libel or fraud, but that’s the process. That process has stood the test of time and is very well documented and understood. In addition to the legal track, there is another means as well to counter falsehoods: getting whoever that makes that falsehood to apologise if indeed what is said is untrue. It is far better to apologise, have an arrangement between parties and move on. Invoking the legal process is expensive and can be long drawn and the outcome can’t be assured.

So, when governments start going after websites (for example) saying that those websites are carrying falsehoods, we end up with an asymmetric power balance. On the average, website operators/owners are not as financially endowed as governments can be and in many cases, he legal route is seen to be a way to silence opponents or those with inconvenient truths.

We saw that in Malaysia when The Sarawak Report started uncovering massive corruption in Sarawak (the Chief Minister siphoning off monies from the state to benefit his family and later the 1MDB scandal). Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, was not happy with the revelations about corruption in the IMDB as reported by The Sarawak Report, that he ordered that site to be blocked from access within Malaysia. What the former prime minister could have done is to sue the site for libel. But that would mean having to counter the allegations on the site with relevant information. Blocking is a, frankly, a sure indicator that there is some element of truth in what is being blocked.

The resources of the government can bear up very heavily on a website if the site was brought to court. This will work if the site contains false, incorrect and otherwise wrong information. People will be able to see the truth for themselves. But when a government goes after a site by blocking it, it raises the question: you are blocking because there is truth in it?

The Sarawak Report clearly won the game of siteblocking in Malaysia. The former prime minsiter, his wife and many of his regime are being investigated for corruption now.

So, what can you do if a site is being blocked because the government/regulators order it? Use the Tor Project. Tor allows for anonymous access to sites going past censors. Of course the likes of the Great Firewall of China are always trying to thwart the tor protocol and vpn systems. The Chinese CP and government are so insecure that they cannot afford anyone to know anything other than the official narrative.

If you are using a smart phone, you can install Tor and accompanying Tor browser as well. See https://www.torproject.org/download/download-easy.html.en for the download options including for your laptop/desktop. For Android, go to: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.torproject.android and for the Apple people: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/onion-browser/id519296448.censored-stamp-shows-prohibited-and-censorship-182563c

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