Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

April 4, 2014

Censorship can backfire

(Continued)

But partly, it was a result of people going out on the street and talking to each other.

As observer Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch put it on that day, “It’s clear that the very extensive police force in Egypt is no longer able to control these crowds. There are too many protests in too many places.”

Hassanpour’s idea is encouraging, in that it suggests that efforts by dictators to shut down communication will be ineffective. But there’s also something disconcerting about the idea that political mobilization can be most effective when its participants are not very well informed.

When participants have an inflated view of their own movement’s power or the weakness of their adversary, this can become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as it draws more participants in. After all, as Hassanpour notes, the Berlin Wall finally came down in large part because East German citizens had been given misleading information.

Thomas Jefferson may have been right that “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government” - neither Russia in 1917, nor Iran in 1979, nor Egypt in 2011 wound up with particularly democratic regimes after their revolutions - but if the goal is simply to overthrow those in power, the uninformed can sometimes be more useful.

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