Internet Censorship Complicates Problems in Tunisia

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Source: The Collegian Online – By Kyle Miller

A single flame can ignite revolution. In the case of Tunisia, it happened when a desperate man chose to set himself on fire. In December, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself aflame to protest being denied a livelihood as a street vendor

photo: Mary Carol Franko

 because the profession is illegal in Tunisia. Bouazizi’s action has incited riots across a relatively peaceful country—riots which have resulted in the toppling of the Tunisian government.

Tunisia, located in northern Africa, had been under the rule of President Ben Ali since 1987. The Pirate Party, an international political movement with a platform of free speech and electronic rights, describes Ali as a “dictator” because of his oppressive policies and disregard for human rights.

While Tunisia has maintained one of the strongest economies in Africa, it still faces high poverty and unemployment rates and a high cost of living. The overall unemployment rate is 14 percent, and a staggering 31 percent for those aged 15–24. Government micromanaging of the economy has resulted in gross income disparities—the top 10 percent controls 32 percent of national income, while the top quintile controls 47 percent of income. These became rallying points for protesters over the last month.

Added to these macroeconomic factors, a less prominent but still significant complaint of protestors has been internet censorship. This became extreme enough that even websites like Wikipedia and YouTube were blocked, but that is not all.

The Tunisian government has been accused of injecting malicious codes into websites such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo! with the purpose of stealing login credentials to data-mine and delete citizens’ accounts. Attempts to censor the Tunisians by blocking social networking and blogging sites grew in intensity during the revolt.

The government even started denying critical bloggers access to the blogosphere and took steps to arrest some of them. Denying citizens their freedom of speech creates a chilling effect that prevents discourse and criticism of the government. Fortunately, that chilling effect sparked the rallying cry for freedom.  

This censorship is criminal in nature, but is becoming commonplace in many other countries around the world with different degrees of severity. It is particularly widespread in countries such as Egypt, Iran and Saudia Arabia.

The revolt in Tunisia has since sparked copycat protests across the region, most notably in Egypt, where similar tactics of Internet restriction have been employed. The revolts in Egypt were organized partially through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, so government action to disable online tools was swift.

The violence in Egypt has been devastating and ongoing, but in Tunisia at least, under a new interim government, the atmosphere has been restored to one of relative calm. Unfortunately, the new government has begun a round of censorship at just the time when freedom of information through the Internet would advance the transparency necessary to prevent governmental corruption. Only time will tell if freedom will reign in Tunisia or if another corrupt government will rule.

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One comment on “Internet Censorship Complicates Problems in Tunisia
  1. […] Internet Censorship Complicates Problems in Tunisia ( […]

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