Influence the web community

Name some current affairs concerning the web and describe how they influence the web community.

The web was originally developed for the purpose of research and learning, a place where individuals could go to broaden their knowledge on any topic of interest. Whilst it is still used for that, as technology has advanced, so has the purpose for the web. It is no longer somewhere people go just to retrieve information; it is now an interactive space where people can gather to share information, opinions and views (Wikipedia 2008). In that sense, the web can be very empowering to an individual as it gives them the freedom to speak out about topics which would never have been mentioned otherwise. By looking at various countries as examples, we will be able see how the state of current affairs within a country can determine the nature of the web community in that very way - making it the most valuable and powerful source of empowerment available to them. It is in countries such as these where blogging sites, discussion boards and social networking sites are booming as they are finally granting individuals, who have been oppressed for centuries the opportunity to speak out about the injustices they face on a daily basis.

An example of where this is evident is Iran. Iran is known for its totalitarian government and the control which they continue to impose upon society. Iranians are only given access to information permitted by the government. They are not allowed to voice any opinions against or criticise laws or injustices to do with the law, if they found doing so, they can be punished or even sentenced to death. What the government did not see coming and have not been able to control is the rapid rise and usage of the interactive web in their country over the past few years. Because people are too scared to voice their opinions verbally, they using the web as a place where they can express their opinions, debate and discuss views (Internet brings Iran to Life 2009). Blog sites and discussion boards have been emerging all over the web in Iran and is now officially home to the 3rd largest blogging groups in the world ( (Internet brings Iran to Life 2009). This proves just how much the people of Iran value its existence, as it is finally allowing them a chance to speak out without the fear of sentenced to death. The government soon realized just how powerful the web was becoming and so chose to block interactive social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter ahead of the government elections in 2009 in attempt to try stop everyone from rallying against their party (Cellen-Jones 2009) . Once the elections were over, the sites were unblocked and people were free to use them again. When the results came out and it was revealed that the unpopular dictatorial president remained in power, chaos erupted on the streets as the public felt the results had been rigged. All foreign press was banned from the country, telephone services were cut off and Internet connections severed, which meant that the rest of the world knew nothing of what was unfolding in the country's streets. Yet amongst this chaos Iranians flocked straight to the web, managing to find ways of getting around government control in order to communicate with the rest of the world. Tweets were sent out and blogs containing a link to a server outside of government control were posted across the web, giving outsiders the chance to know what was actually happening (Internet brings Iran to Life 2009). No one was able to look to television, newspapers or radios for answers -the web had instead, become the arena upon which this battle for social and political justice was taking place.

From looking at this example, one can see how strongly a country's political situation can influence the way in which the web is used. In this instance, the government's oppressive regime propelled the web into becoming an empowering political weapon, one which, (if it not banned completely) could play a crucial role in re- establishing democracy.

The same could be said about China in terms of how the web community thrives amidst the strict control of the government.. Although the people of China do have access to the web, they are only getting access to information permitted by government law (Thompsom 2010). All information that travels through the webs network cables are subject to censoring devices, blocking any words, phrases or number co-ordinations considered 'harmful' to the nation. Further more, censoring software known as the Green Dam has to be installed onto every computer in the country to ensure no forbidden information is filtered through. Just some of the topics forbidden to search about on the web are, "human rights," "democracy," "free speech" "religious rights" anything to do with the spirituality of Falun Gung, or the 1867 Tibetan massacre. So for a search engine to be able to operate inside China, they would have to comply with these censoring laws else opt out altogether (Drummond 2010).

Yahoo was the first search engine to operate inside the country. They offered no resistance to the government as they abided by all the laws, publishing only articles which were allowed and filtering all that was forbidden. Google was the second search engine to enter the market, but unlike Yahoo who were operating from inside China, Google had decided to keep their offices in America and operate their servers straight from there. The disadvantage of this was that the Internet connection could be potentially slow and probably not as efficient at it could be, but the advantage was that because they were situated outside of the country, they were under no legal authority of China's Internet laws. They could provide a link to whatever site they wanted but if you were to try access that site, it would appear blocked. Proof of that information would therefore exist for whoever searches for it, but then of course the question would linger as to why it could not be accessed (Thompson 2010).

The Chinese government obviously saw this as a huge threat, as people were now able to see that opposing information existed beyond their borders. Google's Internet connection began 'mysteriously' slowing down and access to the site's home page would often be denied. People then started using other search engines because of Google's supposed inefficiency. In order to get around this problem and try survive the market, Google knew that they would have to start operating inside of China - which meant being subject to all of their censorship laws (Thompson 2010). Their other option was to risk profit loss and cut ties with the country and its repressive regime altogether, thus maintaining their reputation for being a "a company that is trustworthy and interested in the public good'(Thompson 2010). In 2006, they went about opening offices in Beijing and although some argue that their decision was purely financially based - as there is such a profitable market there, Google reassured the public otherwise. They felt that it was better to give the people of China access to some information than give them nothing at all. In December 2010, Google threatened to pull out of China altogether after several 'highly sophisticated cyber attacks' (Drummond 2010) into numerous Chinese human rights activists email accounts had taken place earlier that month. They said it was because of this as well as with the government wanting to tighten the censoring laws even further that pre-empted this decision by Google. Nothing has been done yet as they are still waiting to meet with the government to discuss the matter further.

Despite living under such control, the Chinese see the web as having had a profound affect on the lives of every individual. Like the Iranians, the Chinese are taking full advantage of the interactivity of the web by using it as a platform to free speech (Oshire 2009). In any other democratic country, this would seem quite ordinary, but in a country like China, where people are petrified to voice any opinion against the government, a service like this is invaluable.

North Korea is perhaps the most extreme example of what role current affairs can play in a determining the nature of a web community. Unlike China and Iran, where there is access to filtered information, people in North Korea are given no access to any information outside of the countries perimeters (10 Most Censored Countries 2006) . All forms of media are controlled by the official Korean Central News Agency, which is also subjected to a government controlled frequency. This means that all the information accessible to North Koreans is of a biased political opinion. In terms of the web, all Internet sites operate within a local intranet which is then controlled and monitored by the government (10 Most Censored Countries 2006) . This means that no foreign search engines operate within the country; there are in fact only two local search engines that are operational within the borders. To North Koreans, websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube don't even exist; interactive services such as blogging, video streaming and discussion boards are unheard of (Zeller 2006). The government even went as far as to block all cellphones in 2004 (Kim 2009) in attempt to stop people from staying in touch with the outside world via web access. Since then, the ban has been breached and a limited cellphone connection has been re-established (Kim 2009). Web access however is still very limited, even if operated from a cellphone as it is still only websites associated with the Korean Central News Agency that will be allowed. So in terms of a web community with North Korea, there is none. They are living in an 'Internet black hole,' (Zeller 2006) devoid of any indication of just how empowering the web can be.

We have looked at three different examples regarding current affairs and the web. In Iran, we saw how the political unrest within the country has propelled the web into becoming the battleground upon which they will try to fight for their democracy. In China, we looked at some current affair issues concerning the web such as the strict government laws under which it is forced to operate. One would think this would bring harm to the web community where as in fact, it has done the opposite. China has become home to the most amount of web users in the world; 92% of the population use social media, which if you were to compare it to the United States, it's just 76% of the population. Lastly we looked at North Korea, the country which tops the list as the most censored in the world. The laws under which the web operates are so strict that it doesn't even allow for a web community to exist, let alone thrive as is the case with China and Iran.


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