Mobile phones and new media in pro-Tibet protests

Posted by John.L.German on Aug 11, 2007

Of the hundreds of mainstream-media news stories around the world on Wednesday August 8, 2007, about the pro-Tibet protest in China this week, the one copied below focused on the role of information and communication technologies in a compelling, vivid, and memorable way.

I hope that readers will know where this story could be taken and how it could be highlighted and used to maximum effect as an example of outstanding innovative use of free new-media tools to achieve social change -- feel free to do that, or let me know what should be done.

The Globe and Mail report on how "Tech-savvy pro-Tibet protesters get message across." The article reads, in part:

By using the internet to circumvent Chinese censors, the Students for a Free Tibet -- including three Canadians -- sent live cellphone videos of them rappelling down the Great Wall of China and unfurling a banner that read “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008” back to New York using the internet software Skype. The video was almost instantly posted onto YouTube, and just like that, they had an immediate and global audience for their cause.

“This type of activism -- allowing people to witness something spectacular, make them take notice and ask further questions -- it's an age-old tactic that activists use, but what's different now is that these tools allow groups like Students for a Free Tibet to get their message out rapidly and not through filters of mainstream media or government censors,” said Ron Deibert, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

In this case, Victoria-native Lhadon Tethong, director of the New York-based STF, also posted a letter on her blog ( to International Olympics Committee president Jacques Rogge. She made a video of her talking about the letter as she stood under the nose of a statue of Mao Tse-Tung, modern China's founder.....

Prof. Deibert said grass roots organizations like SFT have had to become technologically savvy to stay one step ahead of countries that “are determined to try and block the free flow of information. So you find some of the most innovative uses of new media among civil society organizations and human rights organizations in those countries.”

But despite techniques that can side-step China's internet censorship and publish online, the downside remains that people within China cannot read or view the information that's posted.

“They're flip sides of the same coin,” said Prof. Deibert, director of the U of T's Citizen Lab, where researchers have created a “censorship circumvention program” called psiphon. People in countries with little or no censorship can download the program for free onto their computers and then give them to others in censored countries, allowing them to use the foreign computer to get around state filters."

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