22 June 2009

Censorship: Cute cats are the antidote

Here's an interesting theory on political censorship and cute little kitties. They may be the answer to getting the message out.

According to Noam Cohen of the New York Times,
To censor the Internet painlessly, undetectably, is the dream that keeps repressive governments up late at their mainframe computers. After all, no users are so censored online as those who never see it.
After all, he adds, what government could bring itself to block such a an image? Cohen refers to his illustration of a little critter in a big measuring cup.

It's worth it to click on the link just to see the photo.

Awwwwww. Ahhhhhh.

His story, of course, is about the Internet crackdown by the Iranian government in hopes of subduing the protest movement since the June 12 election, and he provides some ideas to get around the system.

If only Iran’s leaders had thought through the implications of what can be called the Cute Cat Theory of Internet Censorship, as propounded by Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. His idea is deceptively simple: most people use the Internet to enjoy their lives, and among the ways people spread joy is to share pictures of cute cats. Even the sarcastic types (who, for example, have been known to insert misspelled messages under pictures of kittens) seem to be under their thrall.

So when a government censors the Internet, it had better think twice: “Cute cats are collateral damage when governments block sites,” Mr. Zuckerman wrote for a recent talk. People who could not “care less about presidential shenanigans are made aware that their government fears online speech so much that they’re willing to censor the millions of banal videos” and thereby “block a few political ones.”
There are some 60,000 blogs in Iran which resulted when the government censored print media in 2003, and those who were censored went to the Internet.

Zuckerman says there are practical benefits to mainstreaming online political protest, and it is hard to censor.
“The response,” he said, “is to say let’s go in the other direction — encourage anyone that has a human rights site to mirror it everywhere, including sites like Blogspot.com with lots of noncontroversial sites. It is kind of hard for Iran to block Blogger.com well, not that it is hard, but it is complicated. They would have to close down a lot of blogs, including blogs with cute cats.”
Read the complete article at the link above.

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