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Information Technologies Can Foster Freedom or Reinforce Repression

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New communication tools such as text messaging and social networks my not be as uniformly beneficial or as robust as suggested by the media, which portrays them as powerful ways to enhance freedom, according to Penn State University researchers.

When anti-government protests exploded in Egypt in early 2011, citizens started to use blogs, text messaging, and social networks to spread information. However, the Egyptian government took over the Internet and text-messaging services in an attempt to silence the protesters, notes Penn State graduate student Brandie Martin.

"President Mubarak used the services to send out pro-Mubarak messages," which "alerted supporters about the location of pro-Mubarak rallies and called for unity in his name," Martin says.

Some mobile network operators honored the government request and suspended service, while others developed apps and services that helped the protesters.

During the political unrest in Kenya in 2008, text messages were used to broadcast messages of hate among the warring tribes. When Kenyan authorities tried to stop the messages, the telecommunications companies refused to comply with the government order.

"There are real questions now as to what the role of telecommunication companies should be," Martin says.

From Penn State Live
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Abstracts Copyright © 2011 Information Inc. External Link, Bethesda, Maryland, USA 



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