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Deleted Scenes #05: Contradictions of Internet diffusion in Singapore

Posted on Wed, Sep 06, 2006 at 9:57 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This passage on Singapore didn't make it into Chapter 11 for reasons to do with flow.

If matters appear relatively clear cut in China, they are less so in nearby Singapore, where the contradictions of a state-driven high-tech economic development strategy and authoritarian rule may soon begin to intensify. Given an economic context of declining manufacturing growth rates in the 1980s, Singapore implemented a national information technology plan, aimed at developing a modern communication infrastructure based on fibre optic backbones, and the development of an entrepreneurial culture of innovation in the high-tech sector. Economic development in this area was also spurred by the early and widespread adoption of new ICTs in government as well as a new agenda for the teaching of IT skills in universities. All of these initiatives were designed with economic development in mind, and they have proved successful in these terms (Ho et al, 2002: 127, 143).

Singapore is best described as semi-authoritarian, and is widely regarded as one of the most surveilled societies in the world (Kalathil and Boas, 2003: 74). Since its founding as an independent republic in 1965, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has dominated most aspects of its political life. Opposition parties are permitted, but a range of restrictions mean that they are effectively excluded from power. Historically, the PAP's success in producing high levels of economic growth and rising living standards for Singaporeans has underpinned its legitimacy. However, the PAP regime continues to censor the media. The government effectively controls all of Singapore's major newspapers and their related websites and portals through its control over the Board of Directors of Singapore Press Holdings (Kalathil and Boas, 203: 77). The counterpart to the state-led knowledge economy in the Singapore model has been a relatively undeveloped civil society, and state restriction of citizen activity aimed at criticising its economic rationale (Ho et al, 2002: 133). Thus, the new economy was officially encouraged for allowing the rapid pace of industrialization to continue, but the potential for the Internet to loosen existing social, cultural, moral and political values was not considered part of the plan.

Much like China, Singapore has an internal 'walled garden' approach to the Internet. The Singapore Broadcasting Authority grants licenes to online content providers and ISPs, but all ISPs must send their traffic through state proxy servers. The state uses these to filter unacceptable content, especially pornography and political criticism, before it appears. In 2001, the PAP announced stricter regulation of political websites, forcing them to register with the authorities. These and other regulations have had a 'chilling effect', and have promoted a culture of self-censorship online. (Kalathil and Boas, 2003: 78).

Yet according to research by K. C. Ho and colleagues, one fascinating aspect of the Singapore case has been the tendency for the economic-developmental aspects of technology to leak into other areas of social, cultural and political life, creating in the process a number of public spheres of communication which were previously impossible to imagine in a state with relatively disciplinary moral traditions. As cyberspace developed in Singapore during the 1990s, relatively unhindered by state restriction apart from a few high profile cases of state blocking of pornography, it has created an alternative public sphere of religious groups, political opposition and sexual minorities. Singapore's cyber civil society contains groups ranging from those making civil and constitutional claims, through to anti-censorship campaigners, unofficial opposition parties, and groups promoting alternative lifestyles and sexual freedoms. Religious movements from other countries have found Singapore a relatively easy place to host their sites. Falun Gong, outlawed in China, has bases in Singapore, and channels much of its Asia-Pacific web activity through sites hosted there (Ho et al, 2002: 141). The flourishing of Singapore's civil society, partly facilitated by the Internet, is only in its early stages. In comparative terms, liberal democratic freedoms are still relatively weak in Singapore and are likely to remain so for some time. The state continues to enforce strict controls on Internet communication. But harnessing the knowledge economy in the national interest has had some unintended consequences.


Ho, K. C., Baber, Z. and Khondker, H. (2002) '"Sites" of Resistance: Alternative Websites and State-Society Relations', British Journal of Sociology 53 (1) pp. 127-148.

Kalathil, S. and Boas, T. C. (2003) Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC).

Deleted Scenes

Posted on Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 11:55 AM by Andrew Chadwick

These are passages or Exhibits that didn't make the final cut of the book. They are by no means representative of the content of the book, but provide extra material that is unlikely to make it into one of my other publications. I hope you find them useful.

#01: The Haunting of Geocities
#02: The E-Rate Campaign
#03: E-Voting in the 2000 Arizona Primary
#04: The Uprising in Indonesia
#05: Contradictions of Internet diffusion in Singapore

Edited on: Wed, Sep 06, 2006 10:02 PM

Deleted Scenes #04: The Uprising in Indonesia

Posted on Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 11:49 AM by Andrew Chadwick

This passage on the role of the Net in the rebellion against the Suharto regime in 1998 didn't appear in the final version of Chapter 06: Interests Groups and Social Movements: E-Mobilization.

An example of how an Internet and technology driven approach to development can have unintended consequences for the political system may be found in Indonesia's troubled transition to electoral democracy during the 1990s. In common with Singapore (and many other South East Asian countries operating according to a 'developmental state' model), during the 1980s, the Indonesian government rolled out an ambitious programme of infrastructural IT and network development. Overseen by President Suharto and led by the activist Minister for Research and Technology, B. J. Habibie, the programme established research networks linking universities and government bodies. By the mid-1990s, the country had a private ISP sector, and growing levels of Internet access. Habibie, who briefly became the country's President following the collapse of the old regime in 1998, had been inspired by a vision of a high-tech Indonesia that would leapfrog its way to economic development. Yet the regime believed that this would occur within the established confines of the Suharto regime's authoritarianism, in which media were censored by the state, their ownership concentrated in the hands of an economic and political elite sympathetic to the regime (Several of Suharto's family owned the major private television stations).

Indonesia not only consists of thousands of islands, making even internal travel difficult, but also its relative isolation in relation to the larger mainland areas in the region has traditionally made it more difficult to establish external links. Ironically, these kinds of communication problems spurred Habibie's development programme to create a large number of publicly subsidised Internet cafes, colloquially named 'warnet' (in reference to 'warung' - traditional Indonesian community meeting places). These proliferated during the mid-1990s, and eventually came to be used by pro-democracy campaigners to communicate their messages away from the official media (Hill and Sen, 2000; Lim, 2003).

By May 1998, censorship in Indonesia had all but collapsed, and the regime had been toppled. The Internet played a major role in the democratic revolution, allowing student rebels to plan their actions, such as the occupation of the Parliament building during May, using email and private bulletin boards. It allowed journalists to publish articles that were cut from the mainstream press by the censors. And it also made it possible for human rights groups in the West to make links with campaigners inside Indonesia. The Net was instrumental, not only in bypassing official censors, but also in overcoming many of the limitations imposed by the geography of the archipelago. The network of warnets were not only important in providing access for Indonesia's poor, they also functioned as important nodes in communication networks beyond the Internet. The latter included critical expatriates who were willing to publish information about the regime on bulletin boards and web sites, as well as intermediary groups such as taxi drivers, newsagents and street traders. Rather than a simple case of an 'Internet revolution', it was the way in which the Internet interacted with pre-existing social spaces that mattered (Lim, 2003: 284).


Lim, M. (2003) 'The Internet, Social Networks and Reform in Indonesia' in Couldry, N. and Curran, J. (eds) Contesting Media Power: Alternative Media in a Networked World (Rowman and Littlefield, Oxford), pp. 273-288.

Deleted Scenes #03: E-Voting in the 2000 Arizona Primary

Posted on Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 1:18 AM by Andrew Chadwick

This planned Exhibit on e-voting didn't make the final cut of Chapter 07: Parties, Candidates, and Elections: E-Campaigning.

The first major innovation in e-voting came in the form of the Arizona Democratic Party's 2000 presidential primary (Alvarez and Nagler, 2001, Solop, 2001). The first binding Internet election for public office to be held in the United States, the primary offered voters a choice between remote voting via the Internet, traditional postal voting, Internet voting at 124 polling places and old fashioned paper ballot at the polling place. The election was handled by a private company, Election.com (now defunct). Personal identification numbers for individual voter authentication purposes were mailed to over 800,000 registered Democrats in Arizona along with postal vote forms. Voters could vote remotely during the three days leading up to the March 10 election day (Solop, 2001: 290). The results showed that just under 36,000 voters (41%) chose to vote remotely using the Internet. Traditional postal votes numbered just under 33,000 (38%). Only 16% turned up in person to mark a paper ballot, while 5% used Internet connected machines in the polling places.

Move beyond these basic facts, however, and the true significance of the primary becomes hazy. Frederick Solop argues that turnout increased a massive 723 per cent between the 1996 and 2000 primaries. However, Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler point out that 1996 had been the first attempt at a genuine statewide primary in the state - for the Republicans. The Democrats were unable to hold a true primary in 1996 and fell back on a small-scale preference contest. Comparisons between 1996 and 2000 are therefore much less robust than historical comparisons across a number of years (Alvarez and Nagler, 2001: 1136). They also point out that overall turnout was poor: only 10.5% of registered Democrats bothered to vote at all, though they acknowledge that this could be a reflection of the fact that by the time of the Arizona primary it was obvious that Al Gore had secured the nomination.

There were other problems with the election. Around 4% of registered voters tried but were unable to cast their vote using the Internet, largely, it seems, because they were using web browsers that could not handle cookies or secure connections. A unsuccessful lawsuit filed by a group calling itself the Voting Integrity Project argued that unequal Internet access meant that the ballot would be racially discriminatory and therefore in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (Solop, 2001: 290). There were also widespread security concerns about the e-voting system used by Election.com. No other states followed Arizona in 2000. In 2004, Michigan's Democrats held their primary online, causing many of the same issues to rise to the surface, effectively putting a moratorium on remote e-voting in the United States.


Alvarez, R. M. and Nagler, J. (2001) 'The Likely Consequences of Internet Voting for Political Participation' Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 34 (3), pp. 1115-1152.
Solop, F. I. (2001) 'Digital Democracy Comes of Age: Internet Voting and the 2000 Arizona Democratic Primary Election' PS: Political Science and Politics 34 (2), pp. 289-93.

Edited on: Sat, Feb 11, 2006 1:36 AM

Deleted Scenes #02: The E-Rate Campaign

Posted on Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 1:18 AM by Andrew Chadwick

This passage about the E-Rate Campaign in the United States as an example of organizational adaptation didn't make the final cut of Chapter 07: Parties, Candidates, and Elections: E-Campaigning.

Another example that nicely illustrates the Internet's impact on traditional interest groups may be found in the areas of education and telecommunications policy. The 'E-Rate' campaign of the late-1990s centred around provisions in the US Telecommunications Act of 1996 establishing 'universal service' as a doctrine shaping access to newly emerging digital networks. The main aim of universal service was to establish a framework of discounts, subsidies and standards that would allow rural as well as urban areas to benefit from the roll out of new telecommunication infrastructures. Following an amendment to the bill as it proceeded through Congress, largely the product of a quiet but concerted lobbying effort by a number of educational groups, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was empowered to set discount rates to which telecommunication companies were compelled to adhere when selling their services to schools and libraries. These discounts, which were partly but not wholly offset by federal subsidy, became known as the 'E-Rate'.

Not surprisingly, during 1997, the FCC was flooded with applications from schools and colleges eager to obtain discounts for wiring up their classrooms. Appalled at the rise in applicants, the major US telecommunication companies, AT&T, MCI, Bellsouth and others started a campaign to have Congress reconsider the E-Rate, claiming that it constituted an unfair 'tax' on the industry that they would be compelled to pass on to consumers. Their campaign won the support of many Republican Members of Congress, and within a year of its introduction, this aspect of the 1996 Telecommunications Act was under threat.

The response by the educational groups that had pressed for the E-Rate in the original bill was to create a new national organization: a 'Save The E-Rate Coalition'. With the financial help of the wealthy National Education Association and the expertise of Capitol Advantage, a Washington based political communication consultancy, the Coalition established an Intranet to internally co-ordinate action, and a public-facing web site providing information and tools citizens could use to contact their Member of Congress and the FCC. In the two month period between May and June 1998, the Save The E-Rate Coalition orchestrated the sending of around 20,000 emails to Congress at a total cost of only $40,000. Moreover, the Coalition leaders were able to monitor the transmission of messages and tailor their strategy accordingly, focusing on particularly important individuals' mailboxes (Bimber, 2003: 158-159). In June 1998, the FCC came under pressure to make a decision about the E-Rate's future. As a compromise, a diluted version of the discount structure emerged, which tightened up the rules on which schools could apply for the cheap rates. But the principle of the E-Rate was left intact, and by 1999, around three quarters of US public schools and half of its libraries had applied for E-Rate discounts.


Bimber, B. (2003) Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).

Edited on: Sat, Feb 11, 2006 1:36 AM

Deleted Scenes #01: The Haunting of Geocities

Posted on Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 1:17 AM by Andrew Chadwick

This planned Exhibit on the Haunting of Geocities was left out of the final version of Chapter 12: The Political Economy of New Media for reasons of contemporaneity and space.

Geocities, first founded in 1994, now owned by Yahoo!, is a web site hosting service. It provides free web space for non-commercial use, supported by banner advertising, to anyone wanting to set up a basic web site. The business model upon which the service was based was simple: in return for providing a home in cyberspace to ordinary web users, the company would sell advertising space to other companies wishing to reach the millions of eyeballs that would naturally be drawn to the many web sites (initially labelled 'homesteads') that would eventually find a place in the Geocities 'neighbourhoods'. By 1999, Geocities had increased the intrusiveness of its advertising, but it still enjoyed a massive user base, making it among the top five destinations on the web (Gurak and Logie, 2003: 34). In the same year, Yahoo! purchased the company, turning it into Yahoo! Geocities and immediately publishing new terms of service. This seemingly innocuous move caused outrage among a significant proportion of former Geocities users.

At issue was intellectual property. Who 'owned' the content of the hundreds of thousands of Geocities web sites? The original Geocities terms of service included certain requirements on the part of its members. The company reserved the right to take down commercial or offensive sites, for instance. But the company made no claim to ownership of the users' content. In stark contrast, Yahoo!'s new terms claimed the 'royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology nbow known or later developed' (quoted in Gurak and Logie, 2003: 34-35). This was an extraordinarily far-reaching claim, and one that understandably met with much resistance.

By the following day, thousands of Geocities members had expressed their disgruntlement with Yahoo! and had started to band together to protest against the move. Spearheading the campaign was an unemployed software developer named Jim Townsend. Townsend established a website and issued a manifesto urging fellow Geocities members to boycott the new Yahoo! service, raise the matter with the press and politicians, and undertake symbolic forms of online protest, such as creating and disseminating satirical banners and graphics.

By far the most effective protests came in the form of 'haunted' web sites. These took the form of ordinary Geocities members' sites that had been deliberately 'defaced' through the removal of content. Links to Townsend's site were displayed on many haunted sites, mainly due to the fact that his site rapidly emerged as the place to visit for updates and his critique of the Yahoo! terms of service. Within just two weeks, Townsend's site had received over one million hits and most major news media had picked up the story, resulting in the beginnings of an exodus away from Geocities. Yahoo! had responded by posting two revised terms of service, the second of which had proved acceptable to Lawrence and the protestors. Yahoo!'s revised terms withdrew from a claim to ownership of content and instead restricted use of members' content to 'displaying, distributing and promoting' Geocities sites (quoted in Gurak and Logie, 2003: 42). In the space of around nine days, Yahoo! had been forced to reverse its policy.


Gurak, L. J. and Logie, J. (2003) 'Internet Protests, From Text To Web' in McCaughey, M. and Ayers, M. D. (eds) Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice (Routledge, London).

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