“THE ISSUE OF INTERNET FREEDOM AND NATIONAL SECURITY IS NOT ONLY AN ETHIOPIAN PROBLEM”

//In an interview with 2016 CGCS visiting scholar Till Waescher, 2016 Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute participant Halefom Hailu Abraha, deputy director of legal and policy affairs at the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) Ethiopia, discusses the thin line between regulating online content and freedom of expression in a transitional country, the effects of old anti-blasphemy laws for the online realm, and the role of national Internet Service Provider Ethio Telecom.

Ethiopia has the second largest population of all African countries, yet its internet penetration rate is only 12 percent. Still, the country has arguably one of the most sophisticated internet regulatory regimes in the region. 2016 Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute participant Halefom Hailu Abraha is a cyber law and policy researcher, and deputy director of legal and policy affairs at the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Ethiopia. In an interview with fellow participant and 2016 CGCS visiting scholar Till Waescher, Halefom discusses the thin line between regulating online content and freedom of expression in a transitional country, the effects of old anti-blasphemy laws for the online realm, and the role of national Internet Service Provider Ethio Telecom.

 

With over 80 ethnic groups and more than 90 languages Ethiopia is the most diversified country on the African continent. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to internet content regulation in your country?

The internet is the greatest tool for advancing causes of democracy and civil liberties. However, it is not without challenges and problems. When it comes to content, the internet provides unlimited access to useful resources, while at the same time, it also serves as a platform for harmful or illegal content such as hate speech, sexually explicit content especially child pornography, defamatory statements, terrorist propaganda, extremist, radicalizing, and racist materials. While recognizing that the benefits of the internet far outweigh its negative…

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A REFLECTION ON TURKEY’S CONTESTED INTERNET AND PUBLIC DEMAND FOR INTERNET FREEDOM

Turkish media expert Dr. Bilge Yesil reflects on findings from the newly released report “Benchmarking Demand: Turkey’s Contested Internet.” In her post, Dr. Yesil examines what the report’s results mean for researchers, policymakers, and internet freedom activists in Turkey. Click here to read the full report.

Do a quick online search on Internet policy in Turkey, and it’s very likely that you will see reports and news stories with “censorship fears,” “decline in online freedoms,” and “Internet crackdown” in the title. It is also likely that you will read about how Internet and free speech activists in Turkey are decrying the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government’s heavy-handed approach to online communications, and maybe you will even get the sense that the level of support for Internet freedoms is quite high among ordinary users. You will also come acrossnews stories that celebrate Turkish users’ expert circumvention of social media bans: “Battle-trained… users…quickly turned on VPN services that reroute access through other countries to conceal the point of access to a platform, effectively nullifying the [Twitter] blackout.”

I bring up these talking points because they shed light on our assumptions about Internet users in Turkey—that they are concerned about online restrictions, do support Internet freedoms, and easily bypass social media bans. But I have often wondered who these users are. What is their socio-economic background? Are they the tech-savvy youth? Are they in fact the “upper classes…the ones who can afford the technology”? What do users think about Internet restrictions? How much of a difference do socio-economic background, education level and political party affiliation make in their approval/disapproval of the government’s Internet policies? Are there users who perhaps are not concerned about Internet censorship at all (gasp!) and do think that social media threatens traditional values? If so, who are they?

The OSU/Koc/Annenberg survey offers valuable…

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Demand for Internet Freedom? An Interview with Erik Nisbet

Dr. Erik Nisbet, associate professor of communication, political science, and environmental policy at Ohio State University, responds to questions drawn from the recently released report “Benchmarking Public Demand: Russia’s Appetite for Internet Control,” which seeks to assess the public’s demand for internet freedom in Russia. 

What was the most surprising part of the dataset?

The findings from the survey analysis that surprised me the most were Russian attitudes about the use of the Internet by foreign countries and the censorship of foreign media. There is a robust sentiment among Russians (roughly half of non- and light users of the Internet and about one-third of heavy Internet users) that foreign countries are actively using the Internet against Russia and that foreign news media websites should be censored by the Russian government.  These attitudes are reflective of the political messaging by the Russian government, but I was surprised that they had found such wide-spread acceptance among the population.  Building support among the public to censor foreign mass media and websites is an important part of a much larger information control strategy by the Russian government, as is also the recent legislation limiting foreign ownership of mass media in Russia, to isolate the Russian public from outside information that may be inconsistent with the government’s dominance of news and information dissemination within Russia.

 

How do Russian attitudes towards internet governance differ from some other places where you’ve done work?

Unfortunately, the demand for democratic governance in Russia is very…

 

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Public Perception of Internet Freedom and Censorship in Pakistan

Arzak Khan, Director and Co-Founder of Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan (iPOP), discusses his research study which aims to investigate in-depth the links between internet usage and public perception towards internet censorship and policymaking in Pakistan.

The aim of this research study is to investigate in-depth the links between internet usage and public perception towards internet censorship and policymaking in Pakistan. Defending the right to freedom of expression has been a long standing tradition in many developed countries, but that has not always been the case in many developing countries where government restrictions on all traditional media are often accepted as a part of life. However, with many Pakistanis getting access to the internet for the first time and becoming connected to a global community, things may be beginning to change. Evidence from the Global South suggests that as a country’s population becomes increasingly connected to the Web, there is growing support for ending government controls and censorship. It is the aim of this project to thoroughly investigate these assumptions and uncover what demand exists for internet freedom and other internet policies.

The increasing use of the internet for democratic movements has resulted in governments around the world cracking down on the web in the form of blanket censorship. Most governments in developing countries such as Pakistan want to regulate the Internet in the way television is regulated. This includes having tighter control mechanisms in the guise of policies protecting national security, religion and society. Before the “Arab Spring,” the Pakistani government was planning on promoting the internet for socio-economic development. However, these policies have not moved forward substantially and broadband diffusion is not taking off as had been predicted. Furthermore, government censorship of the internet has been increasing with the blocking of websites such as YouTube, certain blogs, and Facebook pages. New filtering technologies and mechanisms are being put in place that block not just porn and blasphemous material but also political content and events. Anonymous proxy…

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