Who Will Keep their Servers Running to Protect Free Speech?

Around the world, bloggers are reporting that yesterday, Russia may have launched an attack against Facebook, YouTube, LiveJournal, and Twitter to silence a pro-Georgia blogger called Cyxymu.

As the world is more and more connected, governments talk of cyber warfare, and indeed, we’ve seen it used in more than one conflict. However, even more frightening is the threat to free speech that attacks against individuals represent. While pro-Russia hackers may find it useful to knock Georgia offline for a few days, the chilling effect of silencing dissenting voices will be far more widely felt when applied to individuals.

Not every repressive regime can or will launch DDoS attacks against popular services, but what happens when Twitter, YouTube, and Google decide that it’s no longer worth the effort to keep an individual’s account online, not only during but after an attack? How will voices of dissent continue to communicate online?

For those who live and work under regimes whose respect for freedom of expression is limited, the Internet’s usefulness depends on being able to reach an audience that is large and diverse. Will Google fight for bloggers and journalists publishing dissenting views on Blogger, YouTube, and other sites in its large network, especially when its market share is on the line, such as in China? Can services like Twitter, who already have scaling problems, afford to keep frequently attacked user accounts open?

As attacks against individuals become more common, how will service providers react? And how can we help silenced voices to find new outlets to continue their dissent online?

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About the author: Theresa Carpenter Sondjo is an entrepreneur and web developer. She lives in Cotonou, where she and her partner run People Online. Their mission is simple: la mise en ligne du Bénin. Follow her on Twitter at @theresac.
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