Censorship apprentices

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
21 March, 2017
Editorial: 81
Fecha de publicación original: 22 julio, 1997

Who spits against the wind, finds it falls in his face

The assassination of Miguel Angel Blanco by ETA has had widespread repercussions which have gone way beyond the streets of Spanish cities. A section of the Net has been shaken by the genuine anger of many Spanish internauts. Events, nevertheless, moved at a vertiginous rate, in keeping with the digital era, and initial electronic protest messages in which people expressed their disgust for what ETA had done, quickly gave way to a call for the elimination of the server that hosted the web pages of the Euskal Herria Journal, a place where there were articles supporting the armed Basque organisation, as well as information on human rights, language and links to pages where opinions in favour of, and against, ETA were to be found. The action resulted in a resounding “success” on the mob’s part. The Institute for Global Communication was unable to withstand the bombardment it was submitted to and finally had to close down its service.

The action was not more serious, as some people have pointed out, because IGC is a non-profit organisation which supplies cheap Internet services and e-mail to a multitude of NGOs working for peace, social and economic justice and sustainable development in the world. Nevertheless, even if they had worked for a satanic cult or pig pornography, this would not absolve the thousands of internauts one bit of their responsibility for deciding to take the law into their own hands and perpetrate an attack of this calibre on freedom of expression and the right of the inhabitants of cyberspace to interact without anyone cutting them short. The only thing one is able to deduce from the fact that the IGC was the victim, is, perhaps, the ignorance of many of these attackers. While in other forums they express their “concern” for the fate of less-developed countries in the age of information, here — perhaps a sin of digital youthfulness– they considered the initials IGC as synonymous with a band of recalcitrant killers who had become cybernauts.

The debate which followed the closing down of the server served to demonstrate, on the other hand, that this business of generating one’s own information and putting it into an interactive environment, open to all users, means that we have to go through a difficult apprenticeship in order to understand the rules of the game within the cyberspace society we are creating together. Maybe for this reason it’s so easy to confuse one’s ass with one’s elbow and shift the emphasis of the discussion into territory that has nothing to do with it. The debate over the bombardment of the IGC has given rise to:

  • An analysis of the nature of nationalism, self-determination or independence. I think it’s great that people have political opinions and even firm ethical principles as regards them. However, from the point of view of what has happened, it is irrelevant whether it is ETA and/or Euskadi who want self-determination and that there are people who agree with them or not. That’s up to them. One thing is war, the other how you explain it. And what has occurred here is that the right to explain has been cut off. The death of Blanco has (and will have) its pay-off – political responsibilities that will be settled elsewhere. What we want to know is how those who are involved in the events in Euskadi see events there. We want the right to read about them, or not, and if we read them, to interact or not. We don’t want those who don’t want to read it, or who do and don’t like what they read, to annihilate it.
  • If freedom of expression is exercised according to the inclinations, preferences and beliefs of each person, Internet would be a battle zone every day. This time it was Miguel Angel Blanco. Tomorrow it could be anything from black people, through education, religion or the invasion of one country by another armed to the teeth by the weapons industry. Daily life clearly demonstrates that what our neighbours do rarely meets with everyone’s approval. Internet is the first opportunity those of us who are connected have had to discuss things openly and turn the old adage that “information is power” completely upside down. The censors who have taken the Net by assault these past few days are still sticking to this old principle and consider that we haven’t matured sufficiently to be able to judge events for ourselves.
  • It is interesting that the bombardment of the IGC has brought the subjects of pacifism, nationalism and independence under discussion. Nevertheless, none of these discussions could progress fruitfully if we destroy the very fabric which makes it possible: the opportunity for everyone to air their ideas openly without fear of being asphyxiated under megabytes of junk. Over the last few days I have heard arguments in many mailing lists which these ardent and instant censors would not have allowed to pass without forming a lynching party. Many of the participants in these debates even asked for permission to express their ideas in fear, I suppose, of having their electronic mail boxes burnt by the mob.
  • Bombardment of the kind suffered by the IGC does not show that one is against ETA’s political stance (quite the contrary, in fact). The use of e-mail to show one’s opposition or rejection of positions one considers execrable is a legitimate form of social action. In the evolutionary chain from snail mail to pamphlets, e-mail is the latest link in the chain used by those who wish to express their ideas, and it is a very powerful one at that. Gleefully mail-bombing a server with the aim of annihilating it, is a mutation guaranteed to produce monsters: as we always say about the others, we know how it begins , but we don’t know how it will end.
  • Finally (so as not to go any further into this), it doesn’t seem to me that justifying electronic censorship forms part of the process of deciding the best tactics for dealing with the present situation (isolating those that condone violence, not talking to them, not buying in their shops, etc.). This should be decided by those who have those people around them to be isolated, not bought from and not spoken to. The rest is the typical demagogy exercised from a distance to back up unsustainable action. One thing this event has demonstrated is that we have the politicians we deserve. It is they that are becoming more and more like us, judging by the facility with which we are ready to silence those that we don’t like and, if necessary, making use of a vast arsenal of popular clichés to justify ourselves.

For this reason it seems to me fundamental, at this time, to emphasise some of the standpoints that, at various times we have defended from en.red.ando:

  • Nobody has the right to silence the voice of their neighbour, whether we agree with them or not (or whether they be Basque, Nazis, revolutionaries, pornographers or whatever makes up the particular phobia of the person concerned). As Foucault said, we learn a lot from sanity, but we learn even more from madness. Let’s learn, then, and stop playing at being digital thugs.
  • If we take the law into our own hands, we are left at the mercy of the information manipulators, the transitory and strategic conspiracies of the powers-that-be, word jugglers and snake charmers. For example, on the afternoon that the bullet-riddled body of Miguel Angel Blanco was found, all the TV channels in Spain seemed to be connected (it was like the Internet, one Web after the other!) and it became difficult to distinguish journalists from politicians, relatives from the people in the street. What they were saying was exactly the same, it didn’t matter who was speaking. I, for one, asked myself,”Is there nobody else out there?”
  • It is going to be a hard lesson for us to learn, but we have to realise that Internet does not function in the same way as things do at home. In the latter a yell and a smack might help to maintain authority (and prolong unhappiness). On the Net, this backfires. It wouldn’t be surprising if, over the next few days, the pages that have been silenced are “mirrored” in hundreds of servers in the name of freedom of expression. If this lesson is learned, we will be able to view what has happened as an essential step in understanding the new rules that govern the information society and the responsibilities which this demands from each of us. For those of us who are going to participate in May 98, the 1st Congress of Electronic Publications in Barcelona, what has happened has given us plenty of content for the session on “Communication under surveillance” which up until now had been looked on with a certain amount of scepticism by many colleagues.
  • Finally, and again, to cut a long story short, who is in possession of the truth in this damned world? How are we going to know what is going on if we take it upon ourselves to silence dissident voices? I am not the least afraid of Ernst Zundel no matter how much he denies the existence of the Holocaust. Thanks to this gentleman, in fact, dozens of academics, researchers and historians have entered the Internet to respond to the ideas he expresses in one of the most persecuted webs on the Net. Today, we are able to read the dark visions contained in many of the heads of people –some of whom we have possibly gone out for a drink with once or twice–, and, at the same time, other alternative visions.

I don’t want to make a facile connection, something which some sociologists are prone to doing, but, in conclusion, I can’t help mentioning the results of a survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociales — conducted for the Ministries of Justice and the Interior of Spain— which was published on Monday. More than half of Spanish citizens (52% of those consulted), value public safety more than solidarity, social equality and individual freedom. Of the 15,000 interviewed, nonetheless, 92% admitted that they did not consider themselves the propitiatory victims of crimes, although 54% had been victims on some occasion. Can anyone explain to me where this distortion of our own social perception comes from? Is it in some way related to the hysterical reaction of Spanish internauts who ended up wiping out Euskal Herria Journal‘s server? And, who exactly is it that so successfully manages to create an image of a society dominated by crime, terrorism, and drugs, thereby undoing the bonds of solidarity in order to foment public safety.

Translation: Bridget King.