What if Zimbabwe declared “cyberwar” and no one noticed?
Evidently, Global Voices is one of the sources of “‘virulent propaganda’ to delegitimise ‘our just struggle against Anglo-Saxons’.” We’re one of 41 websites blacklisted by the ZANU-PF government, a list that includes the Washington Post and CNN, as well as the personal blog of our Zimbabwe correspondent, Zimpundit.
It’s unclear whether Zimbabwe is actually blocking access to these sites at an ISP level – according to the Independent, which reported the story, “It was not immediately apparent what measures, if any, the party can take against offending websites.” In other words, a country that’s having a very hard time keeping its currency from collapsing likely doesn’t have a lot of free cash to pay for internet filtering technology.
When I was in Zimbabwe last September, I ran some tests for the Open Net Initiative and couldn’t see any evidence of content filtering by ISPs, despite extensive rumors that the Mugabe government had partnered with China to implement extensive network monitoring. (In fairness, it’s almost impossible to detect effective surveillance, while filtering is pretty easy to detect – if you can’t reach a site that should otherwise be reachable, you might suspect that filtering is taking place.) It’s possible that “blacklisting” these sites merely means that there are legal consequences for visiting this banned content – I’ll see whether friends at ONI are interested in testing Zimbabwe again now that “cyberwar” has been declared.
I’d love to tell you that I knew that cyberwar had been declared because our traffic fell precipitously a few days ago, but frankly, we didn’t notice. Given the current economic crisis in Zimbabwe, most Zimbabweans can’t afford much time in a cybercafe to peruse world news. (Zimbabwe ranks #119 in the list of countries accessing our site, between Moldova and Zambia…) I found out about the block from my friends at Kubatana, who helpfully point out that it’s farcical for ZANU-PF to block our publication while failing to block most of the blogs we cover in Zimbabwe…
Even if this block reflects little more than the growing paranoia of a crumbling regime, it would be frustrating to discover that Zimbabweans can’t use our site to find blog news in China, Cameroom or Costa Rica. (Blogs seem to be a special focus of ire for the ZANU-PF blacklist, as Technorati is blocked as well.) So, as a service for my Zim friends, let me point you to the RSF Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents, which includes an excellent chapter on getting around internet filtering and censorship.
Do you know of any other countries that have chosen to block Global Voices? I’d love to hear. And I’d love to hear from friends in Zimbabwe whether they can still reach blacklisted sites like GlobalVoices and CNN.com – feel free to use the comments, since I’m not personally at cyberwar with ZANU-PF… yet.