The internet and its social networks have played a vital and transcendent role in both the uprising in Tunisia, the ongoing revolt in Egypt, and the civil unrest spreading in Jordan, Syria, and Yemen.
Exactly what role it has played is somewhat hazy but undoubtedly its impact was tremendous; what is clear is that it enabled the spread of information within seconds of becoming significant to the cause. Words like ‘We should do something about it.’, meaning the oppression, censorship, and other curtailments of basic rights, can ignite into a wildfire. We can see the results of a call to take to the streets in Egypt. Unmistakably, the internet and Facebook have become a powerful tool for opposition groups that leaders in oppressed countries have only now come to realize, or so it seems.
On the other hand, about 60% of all Internet traffic is to sites with sexual or pornographic content. Another big nuisance of it is that anybody can post anything on websites, e. g. this domain, for free; some people choose to use their real names, some choose to use a pseudonym, and others do it anonymously. This anonymity leads, of course, to a flood of vicious, vile, and insulting postings that only serve one purpose: to besmirch the author of the post or one of the comments. Bloggers, myself included, feel they have something to say so they publish their thoughts on a blog. They do this because they want to share their thoughts, possibly provoke a discussion, offer a different point of view; but most certainly their aim is not to be vilified.
Someone, I believe it was a NYT reporter, once said bloggers have become the new form of print journalism, as sometimes they do break news the mainstream media has not picked up on yet. However, that person was obviously referring only to the serious ones, like the ones that can be found on the New York Times website, or the Huffington Post; certainly, vulgar websites and posters were not included in that statement.
An overseas Khmer political scientist by the name of Gaffar Peang-Meth published an article on the subject of anonymity on a number of websites, including his main vehicle the Pacific Daily News. He simply listed a number of observations made by other people, the gist of which was what we all know already – humans are capable of writing things anonymously, regardless of civility or propriety, they wouldn’t otherwise write. If all people lived by certain universal ethical standards we would not need laws or in the case of internet blogging, moderation of comments.
I, for one, choose to post anonymously in order to avoid those profane and vile comments that would, and in fact did, automatically follow, to some people controversial, posts. (However, anybody can learn my identity if they get in touch by email.) I know the names afforded certain groups or nationalities, e. g. rednecks, the N-word for Africans, guinea for Italian, mick for Irish, kraut for German, frog for French, etc. Again, they don’t serve any purpose but to denigrate other people. In my view, those vicious comments are just a waste of space on the internet, and any self-respecting blogger would just not have his/her site marred by such trash.
The a. m. Mr. Gaffar mentioned that anonymity is the shield from tyranny of the majority (quoted from the U. S. Supreme Court). Understandably, anonymous posters might also fear reprisals from authorities in countries with oppressive regimes. While this certainly has validity in countries like China and Vietnam, for instance, does this apply to Cambodia?
There are many anti-government websites, including blogs, on the internet. The most notorious one is probably KI-Media, which is a prime example of a typical unmoderated blog. The site itself is anonymous so they publish the most virulent anti-government comments. Most are overseas-Khmer who I am sure sometimes come to visit relatives and for that very reason wish to remain anonymous. Their contention most likely runs somewhat along the ‘You never know’ line. On the other hand, Licadho or the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and their members are and live in Cambodia and continue to exist without interference from the government. Of course, they are internationally recognized organizations and harder to influence or control than mere individuals. I have no idea how Facebook features in the dissemination of information about Cambodia, but if other examples are any guide, it probably has the same prominence as elsewhere.
Another anti-government propaganda site is Khmer Intelligence. Now this site doesn’t really exist, but the people behind it send regular Cambodia-related news, mostly rumors and outright fabricated information, by email. This site is actually rather redundant. Other self-appointed anonymous critcs living abroad fall mostly into the same category. They think they make a difference and possibly wish they could foment an uprising like the ones in Tunisia or Egypt with their posts, but they fear to lose the comforts of their normal life so they opt for anonymity and remain armchair experts, content in their belief to have achieved something by putting it out in cyberspace. Only by stepping out of their anonymity and by revealing their true identity can they hope to make a difference; real leaders always have a name.
On the other side of the spectrum, a blog of serious content is ‘The Mirror’ written by former DPA (German press agency) correspondent Norbert Klein. He voices his opinions and often critical observations in broad daylight, so to speak. Well, he is not Khmer, so is he afforded special status or is it that his pieces are of a more mature,sophisticated nature and on a higher level? Said Mr. Gaffar and Ms. Theary Seng, a prominent Khmer activist, also publish their articles under their true names; nothing has happened to them either. Sadly, though, both also choose KI-Media for their publications.
Mr. Gaffar headlined his article ‘Anonymity has its Time and Place’. I would believe this for the most part does not apply to the people who really do want to work for change in Cambodia.
Postscript: Another at times anti-government blog has disappeared from the scene, it seems. Details Are Sketchy ceased from one day to the next. A recent comment on my blog was wondering what happened to her. Although I believe her blog had mostly rather superficial content and some nasty comments, I also wonder what happened to that blogger.