The Power of Blogs to Circumvent Virtual Fire Walls
The independent Burmese media outlet Irrawaddy has yesterday reported 450,000 page views on its blog during the period of one month after its launch, although the number of unique visitors can be expected to be much lower. According to its creators, the blog was found to be “more user-friendly” than the main site and therefore used as easily accessible news source.
Notably, a high number of page views is explained by visits from Burmese authorities who are said to be using Russian proxies. This group, I may add, presumably includes also Burmese individuals who were sent to Russia for training.
While the data would probably require deeper research to reinforce these conclusions about the origin of visitors, it does not sound too absurd that people who are working for the Burmese regime use blogs as sources of critical information in order to avoid the well-known sites of Burmese exile media. Going there would make it quite easy to track down the visitor.
It has often been noted that closed societies share experiences in many aspects. I remember a story that a Czech language teacher has told us students: During the Cold War time it was almost impossible to get hold of forbidden literature in Communist Czechoslovakia. It is therefore not hard to imagine the surprise of Czech and Slovak exchange students who came to Moscow – considered the center and the showpiece of the Communist world – and found in official Russian libraries, neatly sorted in the shelves, all the authors who were banned at home. The reason for this being either that Czech and Slovak languages were not understood, or not being monitored by the Russian library personnel or that the lists of banned authors were not shared between the authorities of Communist countries.
So there is one more thing that Burmese blogs can do: They can make critical information available in an unsuspicious way to people who are working for the regime.
Not only politics has proven that proxies tend to be difficult to control. It is a bizarre side-effect of the regime’s cooperation with Russia that while the Burmese junta his hiding behind Russian Internet routers, also their use of Russian education for their experts constitutes some kind of “informational proxy” through which news can flow without being traced from Naypyidaw.
This is a lesson that Moscow should be able to share with Naypyidaw: Never underestimate unexpected dynamics and the subversive use of your own infrastructure.