We see evidence for this everywhere, in both democracies and repressive nations alike. But how many of us in Western states recognise that tools like Facebook can be utilised for both “good” (connecting friends and family) and bad (surveillance)?
Freelance journalist Inga Ting interviewed me for this piece in Crikey yesterday:
Yet the problem may not simply be historical myopia; it may be cultural. In Western liberal democracies where citizens are continually told they are free, citizens are simply not as wary of their governments — or each other — as they perhaps should be.
“The bottom line of this is that if we can use certain tools to communicate, bring people together, identify people, make friends, etc, exactly the same things can be done by the other side,” said freelance journalist and author Antony Loewenstein, who has conducted extensive research on the internet in repressive regimes.
“Sort of a self-evident thing to say, but a lot of people simply don’t think of it like that. In repressive states they do because they know how it works… The regime in Iran, for example, has literally armies of Iranian cyber-warriors who go around identifying dissidents or trying to destroy dissident websites… China is of course the most extreme example. No one knows an exact figure but at least 150,000 people every day surf the internet looking for suspect comments, websites.
“So the amount of thoughtless information that people put on Facebook simply doesn’t happen in a repressive state… It literally is a matter of life and death.”
David Vaile, executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of NSW, hopes the aftermath of this event will serve as a clear warning to social media users.
“In real life it’s recognised that we don’t want to live in a police state … [yet] people are putting up on Facebook evidence that they [the police] would have had to get a warrant for before,” Vaile said.