LOLcats, Porn, Proxies and Censorship

Based on my Tripod experience, I’d offer the hypothesis that any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media - it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test - if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.

In late 1996, we noticed that Tripod was receiving a great deal of traffic from Malaysia. Searching through the server logs, we found lots of pages in Bahasa Malay talking about “Reformasi” and “Anwar Ibrahim”. I had to visit the Political Science department at Williams College to figure out that we were apparently hosting much of the Malaysian opposition political movement, dedicated to helping deposed and imprisoned deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim return to power. Malaysian media was largely closed to opposition voices, but investment in internet infrastructure meant that the opposition was able to access the internet and publish material that couldn’t be disseminated any other way. (Several of these pages still exist on Tripod.)

The 'cute cat theory of digital activism' is an interesting idea. Basically the author posits that filtering content and blocking sites with cute content that users like (such as youtube, dailymotion, other video sites) brings out activists and makes others aware of the issue. He also talks about how porn is a test of a new web 2.0 service. if it doesn't attract porn, it's not a good service. That is an interesting test. The article continues into a lot of discussion about how users will evade government filters with proxy techniques and how activism and blogging are becoming synonymous and how twitter is becoming a powerful tool. It is very interesting to read and sort of sets the tone for how a government might effectively regulate their users like china, don't hurt the lolcats but still filter out what they don't want... scary.

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