Back when the Internet was relatively young in the early 2000s, there was a positive outlook. People saw this technology as a way to share information and connect each other. But while information is easier to access these days, there are also signs that the digital sphere is becoming less and less open.
Freedom of information is essential in countries where there is a great deal of corruption. Unearthing shady deals and the entire network of enablers empowers citizens to take action. But it seems that the people in power are doing whatever they can to suppress social and political change.
From the Philippines to Indonesia and Malaysia, countries in the eastern and southeastern portions of Asia are experiencing a surge in government censorship. Several internet-monitoring organizations note that there is a decrease in freedom of information.
The way governments censor the Internet seems all too familiar if you live in this region. First, they highlight an issue and make it seem like the root cause of every societal ill. For example, digital piracy and sexual content become the talk of the town for a few weeks until a lawmaker suggests to censor certain websites.
But there’s always going to be a problem with implementation. Beginning with just banning sites posting illicit or pirated content, governing agencies start to restrict access to other websites. Any posts that are critical of the government are taken down. Worse, those who made them are sought and arrested.
Fabricated Opinion and Support
The filtering of the Internet in East Asia goes beyond censorship. Apart from removing posts and banning websites, government agencies also spend their resources on manipulating the voice of the public. They hire certain individuals to write pro-government posts and comments on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
Likewise, hundreds of thousands of dummy accounts are made to voice out support for an oppressive regime. Tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter had promised to become more active in removing these users, but the tide has yet to turn.
In fact, these same dummy accounts are responsible for taking down authentic profiles and pages. They accomplish this through mass reporting. Some people manage to recover their accounts, but others are not as lucky.
How to Remain Safe Online
Critics and journalists are the individuals usually targeted by government authorities. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance even remarked that more journalists in Myanmar today are being charged under the command of Aung Suu Kyi than when the country was led by Thein Sein.
But people must always fight back against the corrupt. This is why many organizations around the world offer a variety of tools to help out. For example, journalists can use the Tor anonymity network to keep their browsing activities private.
Similarly, people in East Asia can use VPNs to prevent companies and government from tracking them down. Getting an Asia VPN free of charge is possible, but this will either be a trial period or a service with fewer features and reduced speed. Still, a VPN is an easy way to secure your privacy online.
There’s a long way to go before true democracy arrives in many parts of East Asia. But people should not lose hope. One should be free to criticize the government without fearing arrest.