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The darkness within

Sadly, though, some supposedly pro-government Web sites that have emerged over the past few months are in reverse. One particular site, strangely called Adu Domba, urges the authorities to be "firm" with demonstrators, calling on police to "beat them half to death" and "shoot to kill". The Adu Domba site owners go so far as to suggest that police strip women demonstrators and rape them.

Another Web site advises users to email bombs to offending Webmasters and to provide a list of known targets. A zip file of the Avalanche email bombing software is conveniently available for download.

On the eve of the elections in the state of Sabah early this year, subscribers of opposition mailing lists found their mail boxes jammed with thousands of email calling on them to reject the opposition and to vote for the ruling party. Known opposition users have also found themselves on the receiving end of dozens of adult mailing lists mysteriously subscribed to by a third party.

The government, meanwhile, has been ambivalent on the role of the Internet, promising non-censorship as an economic drawcard, but criticizing it for creating political animosity.

Khalil Yaakob, on the day he was officially appointed Information Minister and Secretary General to dominant ruling party Umno, declared that his first task would be to counter "lies" posted on the Internet. A special panel of lawyers was formed to scrutinize content for possible legal action.

"The government continues to stumble disastrously in coming to terms with the Internet," said veteran journalist MGG Pillai in a posting on the popular Sangkancil Forum which he runs.

"It does not know how it works, nor how it can be used with effect to spread information, nor how it can be a useful armory in the cultural battle for the hearts and minds of the Malay community. Its opponents saw it as a practical tool to overcome the official and government control of the mass media and took to it like ducks to water."

Certainly, it would be very difficult for the government to influence public opinion in the Internet when their grasp of the technology is limited. Many official Web sites are rarely updated and do not display the sense of urgency and dynamics that make Web sites popular.

More importantly, the government seems to disdain the Net's penchant for free discourse, debate, and alternative views. Until that mental paradigm shift occurs, no amount of technology can make official propaganda sound more than what it really is--just official propaganda.

Attempts now to stifle the free voices of the Internet--with threats, harassment, lawsuits and even jail--will only prove that the Internet is hitting the government where it hurts. And that will certainly keep the online dissidents going.


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