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Net censorship, propaganda on the rise

Report says China worst of a dozen "Internet Enemies."

Several countries on the list, such as North Korea, Burma and the former Soviet republics, are among the world's most isolated nations.

Vietnam, however, is eager to build its economy and Internet use is high. But authorities seem to have been caught unawares by the volume of opposition among the nation's 21 million Internet users and the report details their attempts to control it. In September, Vietnamese officials felt obliged to issue a decree that made it specifically illegal to oppose government policies on the Internet.

“There are almost a million blogs in Vietnam in a population of 85 million,” the report says. “Since August 2006, eight people have been arrested and sentenced because of their online posts.”

The report touches on efforts to prevent technology companies from aiding and abetting this oppression. In 2008, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft joined human rights groups in a Global Network Initiative. As part of the accord, the companies involved pledged to make it harder for countries to get confidential information about people who use their search or blog services, says Reporters Without Borders.

But few tech firms have agreed to even those modest goals and repressive regimes can still easily buy or invent tools to control free expression. The report says authorities are also getting bolder about planting favorable comments as a form of online propaganda. “Not only is the Internet more and more controlled, but new forms of censorship are emerging based on the manipulation of information,” says the report on a pessimistic end note.

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