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As dissidents move online, governments fight back

A new show on PBS says the problem with the rise in cyber dissent is that governments like Iran are "pretty good at social media too."Social media and cyber dissidents have exerted a increasing influence on global politics over the last few years—Twitter, for instance, was widely utilized by protesters and journalists during Iran’s 2009 post-election Green Movement, and China has been locked in conflict with Google over allegations of censorship and hacking. “Ideas in Action” with Jim Glassman, a half-hour weekly show on PBS, is airing an episode this weekend called “Cyber Dissidents: How the Internet is Changing Dissent.” Already online, the show details how authoritarian regimes are working hard to quash this rising form of opposition.

Freedom House’s Christopher Walker, a guest on the episode, characterizes the last five years globally as a “freedom recession.” Walker says Iran, China, Russia, and Venezuela, among others countries, have developed extremely advanced techniques that can be used for everything from monitoring most of their cyberspace to blocking Web sites they view as detrimental to their governments—which often means taking down media sites. He talks about how China recently tried to require that all computers be sold with spyware and software that blocks any site that the government deems a threat. Another guest, Jeffrey Gedmin, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, expresses his dismay at the rapid manner in which repressive regimes evolving to crush this new form of opposition: “The government of Iran is pretty good at social media too.”

Other panelists on the show are David Keyes, founder of Cyberdissidents.org, and Bari Weiss, assistant editorial features editor at The Wall Street Journal. See the program’s site for air times across the country and to view the entire episode.

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