In The Bradley Manning Era, the Internet is Our Last Opposition

21:40Ciaran McCormick

Bradley Manning has been found guilty of 20 offences for whistle blowing the contents of American classified documents. These included the footage of a Baghdad air strike in 2007 where people were attacked, including two Reuters correspondents whose cameras were misinterpreted as weapons. This is the case that confirms the authoritarian implications of modern democracies, where security is prioritised over freedom and opposition. For governments or aspiring parties to shrink from the security rhetoric is to be seen as weak. In America, Obama has stepped up the Bush security regime a significant notch with drone strikes blighting the lives of civilians who are de-humanised as collateral in places such as Pakistan and

Yemen. In Britain, the Labour government has stood by with minimal fuss as the internet has been attacked at its core as an arena for freedom. The opt-out ban on pornography is a dangerous precedent and internet service providers have claimed that they will censor other undesirable content. That includes such diverse material as violence, alcohol and eating disorder related websites. In all of these incursions into our freedom, the political establishment takes its turn to chip away. The last remaining opposition is the final bastion of democracy, the internet.

It may not be perfect, but it replaces the function of many traditional sources of opposition. Alternative news tries to circumvent the agenda of mainstream news outlets such as the BBC or CNN. The traditional apparatus of political accountability such as elections and referenda have been swept away by the new popular democracy. Keeping citizens at this distance is unlikely to satisfy a population empowered by comments sections and blogs. I see online petitions as the way forward as they use the internet in the best way. It removes the obstacles of space and time and allows people to come together, discuss an issue and then aggregate their anger into a forceful statement of intent. I see change.org petitions drop into my inbox or social networking feeds daily on issues both national and local, and those at the top and bottom of the agenda.

However, what the Bradley Manning case shows is that the internet is there to expose the truth. Through the internet, we have been able to follow his case without having to experience the filter of mainstream media and the face-saving attempts of politicians. Wikileaks is an internet-age phenomenon, a place where information can be exposed and accessed by millions in an instant. Even apart from this dramatic and illegal organisations, individuals can the internet to expose truth. In Britain, millions of twitter users defied the law to break super-injunctions that prevented truth being reported or even being known to exist publicly. It reminds me of the quote by Donald Rumsfeld. 'There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.' It is certainly a mouthful but the internet is there to make sure that there are fewer political known unknowns and unknown unknowns..

Nonetheless, Wikileaks has been the best example of the power of the internet. We followed as he exposed this shocking information, watched the video on YouTube and then paid attention to alternative comment sources that uncovered the human rights abuses of his detention and torture. Now the internet has exploded with his conviction and will continue long after his sentencing. We must be careful not to let politicians censor our last arena for free speech. It is in their interests to lock down unsavoury sites that challenge their authority. I am not an extremist on either side of the political spectrum but I defend people's rights to have extreme views as long as they do not stray into territory where they incite hate, violence or unjust crime. We must also be careful that the companies through which we experience our internet freedom do not become authoritarian or the tools of governments. The instant Twitter or Facebook begin a censoring regime of undesirable content, we lose our last bastion of freedom. This is democracy unlike anything we can enjoy offline, so we need to fight to save it. Unfortunately, it hasn't saved the life of Bradley Manning, who will suffer a life imprisonment for an overwhelmingly important cause. But it can save others if we protect it.

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