Global Partners is currently evaluating a media project in China. This piece is based on research during a trip to Beijing in July 2012. Weibo, ‚Äėthe Twitter of China‚Äô, is a popular three year old. Already bigger than Twitter it has 320 million users with big plans to take on the global micro-blogging market. Its success is all the more impressive because it has taken root in rather hostile circumstances. The majority of social media and sharing platforms ‚Äď Facebook, Twitter and YouTube included ‚Äď are banned in China, and the Arab Spring and Chinese pro-democracy protests at the beginning of 2011 triggered a tightening of government control over the media and internet. While freedom of expression is enshrined in China‚Äôs constitution, it is not substantiated in any law. Internet companies, who operate there under a system of self-discipline, struggle to identify where the legal and policy boundaries lie to avoid government penalty ‚Äď a challenge faced by traditional Chinese media for decades. Attempts by Sina, Weibo‚Äôs parent company, to placate the government come at the expense of limiting anonymous expression in China. Sina has recently introduced an ‚Äėinnovative‚Äô points deduction scheme which penalises users for violating content policy. One way that users can redeem lost points is through real-name registration, which forces users to reveal their true identities and has been compulsory in China since March this year. The company claims that their users‚Äô rights are a priority, though, and that rather than taking down or censoring content, they are increasingly accepting liability in defamation and copyright cases on behalf of users. While this might happen in only a minority of cases, it signifies that Chinese internet companies like Sina are finding ways to play by the State‚Äôs rules and protect their users‚Äô rights, at the same time. To have survived three years is a remarkable achievement for a social media platform in China. But citizens are starting to use Weibo to inform and to criticise, playing out the Chinese government‚Äôs worst fear. Take the recent Beijing floods that killed 77 plus people. It was Weibo that made public the deaths and subsequent government cover-up of the number of deaths. Citizens used the platform to voice their concerns about Beijing‚Äôs infrastructure and the poor emergency response to the disaster. So I asked why the State isn‚Äôt clamping down on Weibo, like those before it. The answer was: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs too late. China has social media now. It‚Äôs too strong.‚ÄĚ
Global Partners Tags
A diverse group of civil society groups from across sub-Saharan Africa today launched a statement affirming the internet‚Äôs central role as a space to enable democratisation and promote human rights. The statement calls on a wide range of stakeholders to strengthen their support for human rights online, to extend initiatives to improve access to information, and to facilitate effective civil society participation in all governance processes addressing internet-related issues. The civil society groups from the human rights, media and ICT sectors met at the end of July in Nairobi, Kenya at a two day event organised by Global Partners & Associates, the Association for Progressive Communications, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and Ford Foundation East Africa. The explosion of digital communication technologies is arguably the most significant phenomenon of the last century, amplifying human potential across all dimensions.¬† As such, the politically and economically powerful are increasingly seeking to consolidate and further their power over and within this new medium. The internet‚Äôs potential for democracy could be lost if inappropriate forms of regulation and control are introduced, restricting openness and creativity. In this complex environment who is there to defend the public interest? Until recently this task has fallen with the engineers responsible for developing the internet, and a small number of ‚Äúearly adopters‚ÄĚ within civil society. However, a number of high profile threats to internet freedom have emerged over the last couple of years. These include cuts to internet access during the Arab Spring, threats of very restrictive copyright and surveillance legislation in the United States, and demands for a new internet governance regime that give governments greater control. These threats to internet freedom have gradually brought a wider range of human rights groups to the table. This event and the statement are testimony to this, and hopefully signify the start of a larger, stronger and more coordinated civil society voice for the internet. Read the statement here
We are working with project partners in India and Sri Lanka to strengthen freedom of expression on the Internet in South East Asia. This project is one of the first to apply the recent recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression. It aims to build on these, creating country specific recommendations and civil society outreach initiatives in the region.