Blogspot blocked in Pakistan – bloggers sound alarm

News has been filtering through today that the authorities in Pakistan have blocked access to Blogspot:

Pakistan telecom authorities have blocked several websites inviting people to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, it has emerged.

Instructions were issued to internet service providers across Pakistan on 27 February to block about a dozen websites of various origins.

Including Blogspot, (aka Blogger) which is one of the largest blog hosting websites.

George Bush is visiting Pakistan this weekend, and I’ve heard a number of rumours that I the decision to block access is timed to coincide with his visit.  The BBC article, however, suggests that the decision to block blogspot sites was actually taken because of the Danish cartoon controversy – that the authorities actually just intended to block one blogspot blog, but have ended up blocking the whole blogspot domain.  So, essentially, it’s just one big screw up.

I have to say I tend toward the screw-up theory.

Anyway, as an aside, there’s an interesting backstory to how the news broke into the mainstream media, via the BBC.  Bloggers on an email listserver noted that they weren’t able to access anything from blogspot.  And it just happens that a couple of BBC journalists frequent this list.  A word here, a phone call there, and the story begins to make international waves.

Another demonstration of the blogosphere’s ability to break news.

Microsoft deletes Chinese blogs

Microsoft’s China policy in action:

When Zhao Jing moved his blog to Microsoft’s popular MSN Spaces site last summer, some users worried the Chinese government would block the entire service. The censors had blacklisted the last site where the young journalist had posted his spirited political essays, and he seemed unwilling to tone down his writing at the new address.

But Zhao, better known by the pen name Anti, told fellow bloggers not to worry. If the government objected to his blog, he predicted, Microsoft would “sell me out” and delete it rather than risk being blocked from computer screens across China.

He was right. Four and a half months after he began posting essays challenging the Communist Party’s taboo against discussing politics, Zhao published an item protesting the purge of a popular newspaper’s top editors. Officials called Microsoft to complain, and Microsoft quickly erased his blog.

I have some very mixed feelings here. One part of me is, in a very real sense, actually rather glad that Microsoft took this step. The alternative would be to allow the Chinese authorities to act directly, and possibly throw Zhao Jing in jail.

I’m sure Microsoft would echo my point that their decision to block blogs can actually save bloggers from worse fates, and that they actually provide one of the most free internet forums in China.

But, on reflection, I think we should assume that bloggers like Zhao Jing know exactly what they are doing, and what risks they face in writing anti-government blogs. Microsoft, Google, et al, should treat them as the adults they are, respect their right to free speech, and allow them to decide whether they are personally prepared to take the risk that what they say may land them in big trouble.

If Microsoft doesn’t feel willing to provide people with a forum under such circumstances, then fair enough – it should not offer MSN Spaces in China at all. Instead, it should leave the market to companies that are either Chinese, government controlled and heavily censored, or companies that are based outside China and truly prepared to provide Chinese bloggers a free forum where they know that, whatever they say, they will not be censored.

At least that way, Chinese bloggers will know where they stand.

Update: I’m curious to see how it works, so I’m adding this post to the Beltway traffic jam.

Google censoring in the US?

GoodStuff asks whether Google is censoring video in the United States, and cites a video of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Iraq.

After Google’s decision to leap into bed with the Chinese censors, it has to expect that many people’s first assumption is going to be that it is censoring content – whether in China, Europe or the United States.

But in this case, perhaps another question should be asked by those whould damn Google:

Just what is the point of censoring an explosion in the middle of the desert?

Syrian blogosphere

Yet more good news about the way that blogging is reaching into Middle Eastern society – in this case, Syria:

He has glasses and the kind of baby face that relatives probably like to pinch. But beneath the mild exterior of this Syrian mobile phone operator there is some righteous, youthful anger.

He expresses that anger in a blog.

“I write about everything I’m pissed off about, the things that make me angry: extremism, poverty, religion,” he says with an incongruous smile.

However, it looks as though the Syrian blogging community beginning to reach the critical mass that attracts the unwelcome attention of the authorities:

And even though he and the other two bloggers, Ghalia and Sara, have made great efforts to emphasize to me they are not political, Majd’s blog has already garnered the blogger’s badge of honor: enough notoriety to prompt authorities to block access to it. For Majd, this happened at work.

“My blog got banned at the office,” he says, after he posted “Calm Tsunami,” a fable of sorts.

One to watch.

Wikipedia fights back… badly

It seems like far too many US congressmen (or, at least, their staff) are re-writing their Wikipedia entries for comfort.  And now, some Wikipedia regulars are fighting back… they’re attempting to ban anyone with a internet address from editing articles.

Nice idea but… take just one look at the “Request for Comment” that they’ve posted.

I’d include an excerpt here, but it’s so overly technical and filled with pseudo legalese that it’d never make sense unless you saw the whole page in all its glory.

I predict bad times ahead for these Wiki activists.  They’ve made the schoolboy error of choosing to fight on someone else’s home-field.  They’ve chosen to take on Congress staffers in legalese, and bad legalise at that.  The staffers do this all day, every day.  They’ll eat the Wiki activists for breakfast.

Far better to have stuck to a medium they know – the dissemination of information, preferably to the press.

By the way – some are already beginning to say Wikipedia is beginning to look stupid:

Defenders of Wikipedia has said if you don’t like an entry edit it. Well, someone did. It didn’t expand readers’ knowledge. For political and other controversial subjects Wikipedia is turning into a propaganda stage. Its reputation is slowly dropping to the level of a James Frey memoir.

German Wikipedia closed down

Wikipedia has temporarily closed down in Germany, because of a legal dispute. The family of a dead German hacker, Tron, whose real name had been posted on the site, have claimed that Wikipedia is violating their right to privacy.

James Enck notes though, that the family’s efforts to protect their privacy have largely failed:

It’s all a bit silly when you can read all about it here (English). This is, of course, the US site of Wikipedia, where the same information is available, including in German. National litigation rendered nonsensical by a supranational web.

It’s good news in one sense, as it demonstrates yet again the difficulties of inhibiting the spread of information via the internet.   But, sadly, not such good news for the family in question, as by launching this ill-advised lawsuit they’ve spread their son’s identity so far and wide that even I’m writing about it.

I know it’s easy to say this in hindsight, but one really has to question the competence of the lawyers who led them into this case.

US Congressman rewrites his Wikipedia entry

An alarming, but not very surprising development from the United States:

Members of U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan’s staff have acknowledged they deleted unflattering information about a broken campaign promise from an online encyclopedia, according to a published report.

Content on Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to post information, was replaced to remove references to Meehan’s broken term limit pledge, the Sun of Lowell reported.

Meehan’s chief of staff Matt Vogel told the newspaper that he oversaw the removal last July of information, which was replaced with a staff-written biography.

Meehan, a Lowell Democrat, pledged to serve just four terms — eight years — but he later broke that campaign promise. He’s currently serving his seventh term.

I wonder how long it will be before we see the first UK politician trying the same stunt.

Although, actually, this brings to mind the question – how many British politicians actually have biographies on Wikipedia?

Hat tip: The New Editor