Reading assignment number one, for SOCS300, is a few pages from Mark Frauenfelder’s book Rule the Web. Frauenfelder points out that Technorati.com, a blog database, lists over 57 million blogs (13)! While I found that Technorati returned results formatted with too much information for a quick assessment, I did find the Top 100 blogs tab to be very useful. It seems amazing that blogging as a tool for communication did not even begin until 1996 (15), the very same year I purchased my first computer, a Mac Power PC running Mac OS 7.5.3 (it crashed…a lot). Frauenfelder’s excitement rubs off as he explains that anyone with a computer and a “$20 Internet connection” can publish virtually anything to an “audience of a billion people” (22). Truly amazing.
What initially began as light-hearted informative reading became worrying. Frauenfelder relates the story of Zouhair Yahyaoui who was arrested, tortured and died in prison because of a post on a blog (26). I decided to investigate and what I found was troubling and interesting on two levels.
In the first case, I was concerned that this could be happening frequently. Worse yet, it may also be under-reported. Researching at Human Rights Watch I found a few more troubling stories. Such as that of Abd al-Raziq al-Mansuri. Mansuri had been detained and then convicted on October 19, 2005 for illegally possessing a handgun. Apparently, over the previous year he had written approximately 50 articles as a journalist for a UK based web site, which were unflattering to the Libyan government. (I can’t confirm as it is written in Arabic.) Mansuri’s story is just one among others at HRW, such as the plights of Huang Qi, Liu Di, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Le Chi Quang, Nguyen Khac Toan, and Pham Hong Son.
Also troubling, was the story I initially read about Zouhair Yahyaoui in Rule the Web. Frauenfelder, without citing a source, wrote that Yahyaoui was arrested in 2004 and died in prison in 2005 (26). Reporters Without Borders claims that Yahyaoui was jailed on June 4, 2002 and released from prison on November 18, 2003. HRW confirms Yahyaoui’s release from prison in 2003 and also reports that Yahyaoui died of a heart attack on March 13, 2005 at age 36.
It seems that the free flow of information can cause difficulties on, at the very least, two fronts. It can be a problem for those using “mashed” up information, which has been drawn from multiple resources, as a final reliable source. This leaves me with more questions. For example, what sources can I truly trust? Printed or Digital? Or does it matter?
More importantly, speaking freely can result in fines, arrest, torture and imprisonment for those very individuals who are fighting to keep that right. Will I always have that right? How important is it for me to consider the rights of my society as a whole? How hard will I have to fight to keep it?