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comments on the controversy over the Danish paper publishing cartoons of Muhommed, which gets me thinking about the influence of free press, and the role of the internet.

The thing is, if no one had made a fuss, the audience reading a Danish newspaper would be rather small.  Because of the protests, the article and cartoons have been reproduced all over the world, and everyone’s been notified there’s something to look at.  There’s even a Wikipedia entry about it.

Putting it on the web pretty much guarantees the pictures can’t be suppressed at this point.  There’s always someone who will keep a cached copy and make it available in the name of freedom of the press – it’s really hard to expurgate stuff from the web, as the intellectual property lawyers have discovered.

China’s discovering the same thing with the censored search engines.  Google (and Yahoo, and MSN, and everyone else, but Google got all the sh*t for it) created censored search engines for the Chinese gov’t in which images and sites showing China in a bad light were screened or pushed to the back of the search findings.  Unfortunately, the Chinese govt’s censoring sites are so ineptly designed that I understand it’s actually easier to access than it is to access the Chinese Version in some of the big cities in China.

Because really, the internet’s pretty huge and impossible to control.  If the US gov’t hasn’t made any progress with their efforts to control things like child pornography on the web, how does China think they’ll keep subtly seditious material under control?

The alternative would be to try to block web access altogether.  But it’s pretty much impossible to be productive in today’s world of business and science without the web, so blocking the web is volunteering to be a third-world, backwards nation.

Historically, controlling the press has been an integral part of the recipe for maintaining tight control on a population.  The internet makes that much more difficult to do.  Will this change the face of global politics (slowly) over time?


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