This year's report on 'enemies of the Internet' prepared by Reporters Without Borders, the international press advocacy group, paints a very gloomy picture for theeedom of expression on the Web. It finds that many governments have stepped up their attacks on the Internet, harassing bloggers and making it harder to express dissenting opinions online.
These are very disturbing trends. But identifying 'Internet enemies' only on the basis of censorship and intimidation, as Reporters Without Borders has done, obfuscates the fact that these are only two components of a more comprehensive and multi-pronged approach that authoritarian governments have developed to diffuse the subversive potential of online communications.
Many of these governments have honed their Internet strategies beyond censorship and are employing more subtle (and harder to detect) ways of controlling dissent, often by planting their own messages on the Web and presenting them as independent opinion.
Their actions are often informed by the art of online "astroturfing," a technique also popular with modern corporations and PR firms. While companies use it to engineer buzz around products and events, governments are using it to create the appearance of broad popular support for their ideology.