We are currently writing from the Capitol Building in Washington, DC where Digital Democracy is submitting written testimony to a special Congressional hearing investigating the role of digital technology in protests that have occurred in recent years in countries under authoritarian governments:
“Twitter against Tyrants: New Media in Authoritarian Regimes” October 22, 2009
Below is a excerpt from the testimony we submitted. You can read the full text here.
Testimony of Mark Belinsky and Emily Jacobi Co-directors, Digital Democracy
“Commission members, we want to begin by thanking you for calling upon this briefing. We greatly admire the Helsinki Commission’s tireless commitment to international diplomacy and universal human rights, and we commend your support for citizen movements using new media to challenge authoritarian regimes. As the use of these tools increases worldwide, it is critical for policy-makers to understand how they can be used to empower communication and collaboration among civil society activists.
The problem Repressive regimes thrive on the distortion of truth. They rule through misinformation and fear. New media tools pose a challenge to this culture of fear, providing an opportunity for increased transparency. However deploying these tools in repressive environments brings significant hurdles:
1) New media technologies are often hardest to access within repressive regimes, where their use is restricted or censored.
2) New media technologies pose risks to users by potentially identifying them and their contacts as targets in places where dissent is criminalized.
3) Combined, these challenges can be life-threatening. When fewer people use social media, those who use it for political engagement are easier to track, trace, and punish.
Bloggers from Burma, Facebook users from Iran and Twitter users in Moldova have all been jailed for their use of new media in the past year. Social media, by making information more accessible, can lower the bar for participation, while increasing the risk of blowback to participants.”
Digital Democracy believes deeply in the importance of digital technologies to international politics, activism and civil society. We are encouraged that the Helsinki Committee has recognized this crucial issue and has assembled such an accomplished group of speakers to deepen the Committee’s understanding of it. We are honored to have been asked to participate in this hearing and hope that our testimony, along with those of this afternoon’s other distinguished speakers, will contribute constructively to positive policy changes in the US and abroad.