Recently, a Bahraini court sentenced a man to jail for tweeting about prison abuse. This did not necessarily come as a surprise, as the man has been a prominent pro-democracy activist for quite some time, and has thus been in and out of jail quite often. What interests me, in particular, about this story is that he was arrested over speech on the internet, which we, in America, tend to consider safe, and what that says about how the internet has changed activism.
In the past, tweeting about violence or imminent harm to others, such as bomb threats or assassination threats, have gotten people arrested in America. But generally, activists only get arrested on the street, when they are physically marching or protesting. Now, however, many governments that restrict free speech recognize how the Internet and use of it can be threatening. Activism is both easier and harder than it has every been before. With the breadth of information on the internet, as well as the widespread reach is has internationally, receiving and distributing information about protests, activism, and social justice issues is easier than it has ever been before. However, the accessibility of the internet also presents a threat to activists that has never been present in the past: once something is on the internet, it can never truly be removed, and it can always be traced.
Underground and private movements can now be hacked and tracked, much more easily than in the past, where a person had to physically infiltrate any kind of activist movement. Nowadays, activist movements can be infiltrated and undermined by pretty much anyone, from anywhere, and that makes activism much more dangerous, in an era where activism is also easier and more effective than it has ever been.