For many the phrase digital equality has very little meaning, but for others it’s an important concept. If you look at the news events for any given week you’ll normally find some examples of how are access to free communication over the internet is being curtailed somewhere and somehow. Take for instance Turkey, at the moment there is growing discontent with the Turkish Prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan primarily for allegations of corruption. His response has been typical not of a democratic republic but more of a dictatorship, at least as far as the digital world is concerned.
In Turkey as we speak, Twitter is banned and YouTube is being actively blocked, this is together with one of the biggest lists of blocked sites in the democratic world. A person accessing the internet in Turkey does not have the same access and rights as someone in the USA would. The justification given for blocking these sites, is very weak but in essence it comes down to one thing – these social networking sites are being used to spread the corruption allegations and the government don’t want people to talk.
There are of course much worse places than Turkey to access the web, in reality most of the blocks implemented there don’t work anyway. Just as people will circumvent all sorts of restrictions there are lots of ways to bypass the Turkish blocks, my sister relays her connection through a Canadian proxy server run by a friend of hers. Turkey is a relative well connected country and the citizens are mostly able to afford things like proxies and vpns to bypass even the best filtering attempts. If you try and access the net in China it’s a different story as it’s actually quite hard work bypassing some of the Chinese blocks (of which there are many!).
The trouble is that in China and restrictive regimes like Iran and North Korea, they have actually spent a lot of time an money in making sure people don’t have free access to the internet. Sure proxies and VPNs still work – like this iPAd VPN service, but with enough resources being put into tracking these methods you would have to keep changing. China for example have even been found to track and block TOR outlet nodes which is not an easy task in itself.
So this is the problem, the internet is arguably the greatest advance in communication since the telephone. Yet for many it’s still dictated and controlled by the people who run the country they are in. Most democratic governments have no need or inclination to block access to the internet and social networking sites but for many regimes it’s often a priority. An invention that should bring us closer together and make our rulers more accountable is often just another inequality that some people have to suffer.