SINGAPORE - It's not just dictators. Governments around the world, many of them popularly elected, have tried for years to control the Internet and social media, dismayed by their potential to incite violence, spread mischief and distribute pornography and dissent.Freedom is indeed addictive. That's why it's so dangerous to totalitarian movements, especially the one I write about on a regular basis.
But in Asia, home to everything from free-wheeling democracies to totalitarian regimes and others in between, many governments are increasingly realising that controlling online content, including dissent, just will not work. Even China, which strongly regulates the Internet and is grappling with how to deal with the extremely popular microblogs read by hundreds of millions of its people, is highly unlikely to block them completely.
"Governments are committing quite a bit of resources and time to block websites and I think it's a panic reaction," says Phil Robertson, Bangkok-based deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
"They have some temporary, immediate discouraging effect but over the longer term, they won't be effective because people will still find a way to get the news they want to hear.
"Once people have been exposed to the Internet and see the power of getting information free to your computer, it's a very addictive feeling of empowerment."
So if censoring the net is supposedly useless, why is my site still blocked in Malaysia (as well as this one), both of which are critical of Islam? So call me skeptical, but I don't see this Asian government -- i.e. Malaysia's -- loosening up on their criminalization of criticism of Islam anytime soon.