Online Censorship Goes Offline
Many governments approach internet control via technical means such as filtration and blocking. However, as recent events in Morocco and Mexico have shown, controlling access to online content can be done using offline tactics as well.
This past week, Morocco arrested three online activists known to be critical of the Moroccan government. While Morocco is not known to filter political material online, arrests such as these, which targeted an anti-corruption campaigner, a rapper and a poet, suggest that the government is not afraid to use intimidation to make clear what political content it views as acceptable online. The arrests come in the wake of a recent surge in demonstrations against the Moroccan government.
These tactics are not unique to governments. Two Mexican bloggers were found hanged by a pedestrian overpass this past weekend. Notes attached to the victims bodies indicated that they had been the target of a drug cartel for their participation in an online reporting site that focused on incidences of drug violence in areas too dangerous for reporters to go themselves. The deaths were intended to serve as a warning to others.
Using offline intimidation tactics to control online content has become an increasingly popular form of Internet control as governments struggle to control the sheer volume of information disseminated online. Filtering and censorship must go through each individual sensitive word or phrase and target every potentially damaging post online, whereas a few arrests or targeted killings can be used to send a message to entire communities. While Internet controls may normally consist of online content blocking and filtering, the events of this past week remind us that sometimes censorship can come in offline forms and that it is just as effective when attached to handcuffs and guns as when attached to Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi.