While a great number of people are disappearing into cyberspace, it is wonderful to witness how many individuals are finding a voice through this technology.

The Open Way - Isaac Mao
Photo owned by Eslite Reader (cc)

The Guardian have published an interview with China’s “first blogger” Isaac Mao which illustrates in many ways the democratising power of the Internet. Mao speaks in detail about the “Great Firewall of China” – a powerful image harking back to the great construction of the Emperors to keep invaders out. This construction is turned on the people of China to keep information (the new enemy) out.

It is probably worth our while as Irish people remembering that it is only a few decades since we had draconian censorship policies in place in order to protect us from external “evil” influences. In the first 20 years of the Free State up to 1942 a total of 1,600 books were officially banned in Ireland. Until very recently a number of magazines and newspapers with sexually explicit material were banned. I can imagine that if the Internet was around in the 1950’s in Ireland John Charles McQuaid would have had a very busy staff identifying “dangerous” sites and emailing the state authorities to have them blocked.

Thankfully this era has passed for us. But for Mao:

“At the same time, this shift of media power has transformed many bloggers into a new generation of celebrity in the past six years. China has a long tradition of people trying to fit into the group, moderating their behaviour to avoid standing out conspicuously – a culture reinforced by the man-made collectivism of the past half-century.

Blogs have leapfrogged this tradition, acting as a catalyst to encourage young people to become more individual. So this and other grassroots media are now emerging strongly to challenge China’s social legacy.

Even so, it’s not entirely easy to blog freely, especially in a country with media controls like China. In 2005, my blog was blocked because I posted an article relating to the Chinese censorship system – probably the most complicated in the world.”

Mao has some strong words for Google’s China division which he sees as complicit in the state censorship of individuals. He asks Google to review its policies in this matter which he suggests are contrary to their own motto of “Don’t be evil”. Everyone has a role to play, including big business.

Is blogging a human right? In so far as it grants individuals the freedom of expression I believe that it is or at least greatly contributes to the realisation of a core human right. As such it should be defended by all of us who already have a voice.