Freedom Occurs Offline

Will Heaven has a word or two for internet activists: you're impotent.
What if Twitter had been around during the Spanish Civil War? Would George Orwell have journeyed to Catalonia to fight the fascists? Perhaps not. Judging by events in 2009, maybe “@GeorgeOrwell“ would simply have tinged his avatar red and used the hashtag #spanishcivilwar to undermine his Nationalist enemy.
And you're making things worse.

In this month’s edition of Prospect,Evgeny Morozov argues (as I did in July) that social networking has made it easier to gather intelligence about activists working in dangerous countries:"Even a tiny security flaw in the settings of one Facebook profile can compromise the security of many others."
He especially mocks the notion that Twitter helped Iran.
The use of Twitter during the Iranian post-election protests, for example, recently won a Webby Award (yes, really) for being “one of the top ten internet moments of the decade”. Let me tell you why I find that deeply depressing. There wasn’t a revolution in Iran. There was only violently suppressed protest: death sentences and lengthy jail terms for opponents of the Mullahs’ regime; young women raped and beaten in Tehran’s darkest prisons; dormitories raided and ransacked at the country’s universities; and long lists of missing men and women, many of them presumed dead and buried in mass graves.
Well, yes. However: Western self-congratulation for having the right sentiments is not an internet phenomenon, as illustrated by the lyrics to Tom Lehrer's Folk-Song Army, which includes this bridge:
Remember the war against Franco? That's the kind where each of us belongs. Though he may have won all the battles..... WE had all the good songs!
With respect, however, perhaps Mr. Heaven should dial down his expectations for the internet. Of course a virtual medium isn't going to stop any actual beatings. The net, however, is a form of samizdat --a highly effective form at that-- and samizdat is vital to undermining oppressive regimes.

The bad guys use the form to find dissidents? Yes, and? That's what bad guys do. I had a Polish roommate in college whose father was a prominent Polish chemist on good terms with the state. He was allowed to travel abroad. Their family's status as good Communists gave her "freedom" to carry and distribute samizdat papers. There was always the possibility that she'd be caught --and if she had been, her family's entire dissident ring would probably have been caught also. That comes with the territory.

Plus: hope is something. Soviet dissidents reported at the time how much hope it gave them when Reagan said the words, "Evil Empire." It heartened them, made them feel that someone in the West knew what they were up against and they weren't alone. So, yes, the mere fact that millions of people in the West know that the mullahs beat their people makes a difference. Not an immediate difference, but an important one. The biggest disappointment of the Iranian uprising is that while many Western internet users provided moral support to the marchers, the President of the United States did not, nor did the Prime Minister of Britain.
Curtsy: Holy Smoke's Twitter feed.