In her second speech about Internet freedom this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last Tuesday that the Obama Administration would be spending $25 million in 2011 to protect and assist online activists in getting around government censorship.
She cited China, Iran, Cuba, Syria, Vietnam and Myanmar by name for their behavior.
Autocratic states cannot repress their people forever, she warned. “Leaders worldwide have a choice to make. They can let the Internet in their countries flourish, and take the risk that the freedoms it enables will lead to a greater demand for political rights.
“Or they can constrict the Internet, choke the freedoms it naturally sustains, and risk losing all the economic and social benefits that come from a networked society.”
For those choosing the latter, it is a losing situation, she said, as these governments will have to continually clamp down on their citizens while experiencing “escalating opportunity costs of missing [blocked] ideas.”
Clinton distinguished the US criticism of the recent WikiLeaks of State Department papers from repressive regimes. “The Wikileaks incident began with a theft just as if it had been executed by smuggling papers in a briefcase. The fact that Wikileaks used the Internet is not the reason we criticized it. Wikileaks does not challenge our commitment to Internet freedom.”
With the increasing number of protests in the Middle East, the Secretary ordered the State Department to set up non-English Twitter accounts in the last few weeks to demonstrate its support for activists, while also using the opportunity to clarify the US stand on issues.
Twitter, which only allows users to post statements that are 140-characters or less, has nearly 190 million users and, along with Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites, played an integral part in the revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia, and the 2009 post-election protests in Iran. The US plans to send Twitter messages, or Tweets, not only in Persian, Arabic and English, but also eventually in Chinese, Russian and Hindi.
“What we expect to do is to be communicating through the new social media with literally millions of people around the world because we want them to hear directly from us what our policies are,” Clinton said.
“We want to use it to rebut some of the falsehoods and accusations that unfortunately are made against the United States,” she said on ABC’s “Meet the Press.”
“But mostly we want to be in the mix with this incredible young, energetic population that is seeking the same rights to express themselves as young people in the United States seek.”
The Persian tweets started February 13 and ranged from declarations of US support for Egyptian and Tunisian protestors to expressing openness to discuss US foreign policy. Some specifically exhibited support for Iran’s opposition movement such as the Tweet, “US calls on Iran to allow people to enjoy the same universal rights to peacefully assemble, demonstrate as in Cairo.”
The US has been increasing its rhetorical support for Iran’s Green Movement, with President Obama commenting last week, “My hope and expectation is that we’re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government.”