The limits of Net diplomacy

The Internet may be able to deliver previously banned or unedited information

into the heart of repressive regimes, but the effects that information

may have are limited.

"As long as a government has the power to shoot you, the truth will

not set you free," said Esther Dyson, an information technology expert and

author.

What the Internet does, she said, is help people find each other, something

that is critical when there is an opportunity to bring about change.

"Let's say a third of the [world's] governments are really bad, a third

are really good and a fairly large number of governments are okay but have

corrupt people in them," she explains. "With a really bad government, there's

not much you can really do but try to overthrow it. The Internet cannot

help you if you're in North Korea."

The Internet as a means of distributing information about current events

or historical facts is less important in open governments such as the United

States and Britain, she said. Where it is most powerful for effecting change

are in those nations in which there may be some corrupt people in power,

but using information to oppose the corruption does not necessarily put

someone at risk of imprisonment or death, Dyson said.

"If you've got a middle situation, the ability to expose wrongdoing

is tremendously important," Dyson said. "In the end, the publishing of the

truth forces governments to tell the truth."

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