Sunday, November 27, 2005

Why Blogs Matter

Speaking again of Jack Stephens, he recently asked other librarian bloggers when they first published a post criticizing ALA President Michael Gorman. In my case, it was February 26, 2005, when Gorman made some derogatory comments about blogging that were so ridiculous that they even attracted the ire of mainstream bloggers such as Instapundit.

The following point was at the heart of my critique:

As far as Gorman's contempt for blogs, this too is cause for concern. No, blog discourse isn't always the most elevated. However, blogging has become a powerful vehicle for the free expression of ideas, to the point that certain repressive regimes have imprisoned people for doing it. You would think the head of an organization supposedly devoted to intellectual freedom would respect that.

Nowhere are blogs more important than in dictatorships such as Iran and China. In the former, according to Rachel Hoff:

Blogging has revolutionized dissent in Iran. By providing private citizens a public voice, blogs may be the most powerful tool in the dissidents' arsenal. As an Iranian blogger known as Saena wrote, "Weblogs are one weapon that even the Islamic Republic cannot beat."[7] As the cases of Arash Sigarchi and other imprisoned bloggers show, though, the Iranian regime is trying to crush these new outlets of democratic dissent. Throughout the Middle East, the race is on between journalists opening new websites and regimes such as the Islamic Republic trying to censor cyberspace. While Western governments have a stake in the bloggers' success, neither the White House nor the State Department have spoken out publicly in support of Sigarchi and his colleagues.

Meanwhile, in China, the New York Times reports that bloggers have become one of the biggest obstacles to Beijing's plans for a censored Internet:

So far, Chinese authorities have mostly relied on Internet service providers to police the Web logs. Commentary that is too provocative or directly critical of the government is often blocked by the provider. Sometimes the sites are swamped by opposing comment - many believe by official censors - that is more favorable to the government.

Blogs are sometimes shut down altogether, temporarily or permanently. But the authorities do not yet seem to have an answer to the proliferation of public opinion in this form.

When people exercise freedom, the results aren't always pretty. This is especially true of blogging. However, despite their faults, blogs are a powerful tool for fostering free expression and the open exchange of ideas. Mr. Gorman might not have realized this truth, but dictatorial regimes and their unhappy subjects certainly have.


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