Back when Google was unrecognizable and when Facebook didn’t exist (or dominate our lives so much) and when coding was mainly just a hobby for enthusiasts – many who were involved in the early stages of the internet were drawn to its unquestionable potential.
It wasn’t too long until activists and civil-society organisations were drawn to it by the pull of being able to organise themselves more easily to fight for human rights, or to campaign against corruption or against political scandals – with moveon.org being established in 1998 in a campaign to ‘Move On’ from Bill Clinton.
It’s absolutely undeniable the influence the internet has had on many facets of human life – when we talk about the potential of such a creation we similarly have to look at those who wish to curtail that potential and what effect that has on corruption. We have seen around the world the power and influence online accountability tools can have, when we think of Wikileaks for example and the power of such a massive platform to release information that is many times in the public’s interest to know what their government is doing. This, however, has not been simply accepted as the new norm by governments, there continue to be attempts to clamp down on the potential of the internet as a tool for accountability and social organisation.
When the world was gripped in April 2016 with the revelations of the Panama Papers scandals – China made moves to censor it’s reach, turning the might of the great firewall against allegations of corruptions on Chinese elites. There was widespread restricting of access to information relating to what was happening and seeking to scrub it from the record entirely. This, for many who are familiar with China’s great firewall, is not entirely unexpected and in fact, fits in with a more general pattern of repression of public speech that is in conflict with the great firewall.
“While the internet has emerged as a platform for communication, connection, research, and entertainment, the past decade has also seen the emergence of the internet as a tool for citizens to keep a check on abuses of power, such as with the rise of e-government initiatives in the majority of countries across the globe, whistleblower sites, and the development of resources such as I Paid A Bribe in India.”
As mentioned above one of the biggest and most well-known examples is what’s known as “The Great Firewall of China” an online behemoth that monitors speech, blocks certain kinds of online content, and filters searches – such a tool restricts access to information. In the example above we illustrated how such a tool can be used to limit access to information that is deemed unsatisfactory or potentially embarrassing to governments – corruption should not become a weaponised tool to use against political enemies – but so much sway in what information is acceptable and is not means governments can turn corruption into a weapon in such a way.
Reporters without borders, the group behind the world press freedom index highlight a substantial problem developing. They have recently stated that “The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows an increase in the number of countries where the media freedom situation is very grave and highlights the scale and variety of the obstacles to media freedom throughout the world.”. They further point to the erosion of democractic respect for free media (an area we’ve touched on previously here) as it is growing increasingly hostile to the nature of a free media and it’s role as a pillar in democracy.
Nowhere can this be seen more than in the case of a free & fair internet. This also highlights the need for Anti-Corruption Activists to continue to push for limits to creeping censorship around the world.