Seven percent of Middle Eastern bloggers were arrested and detained in the past year—and nearly 30% were personally threatened, according to a new Harvard University survey of 98 bloggers throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The survey, which was released this week, was conducted by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in collaboration with world news aggregator Global Voices Online (GVO). Some financial support for the survey was offered through the State Department, via a subgrant from the United Kingdom-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. The State Department has been vocal about their desire to conduct pro-democracy outreach through social media and emerging technologies.
While the blogs and bloggers who participated in the survey were not named, they were drawn from the pool of Middle Eastern bloggers whose posts were reprinted by Global Voices. Eighty-one percent of correspondents blogged in English, with the remainder being divided between Arabic- and French-language bloggers—indicating that respondents were primarily drawn from the Arabic-speaking Middle East and the Maghreb, with minimal contributions from Iran, Turkey, and Israel.
These bloggers were also politically active. According to the study:
The bloggers linked to by GVO tend to write about politics, political freedom, Internet freedom, and international affairs, among other topics. This sample represents a more highly educated and more experienced set of Internet users than the general population of users. This group is likely to be significantly better informed about the risks of online activity and behavioral practices that will increase online security. They are also more likely to be politically active and have international connections.
Seven percent of respondents claimed to have been arrested or detained in the past year, while 30% were personally threatened and 18% had their website or personal accounts either hacked or attacked. These bloggers mainly used Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail for their own online activities. According to the survey, many were also not up to date on personal security online—in their words, "only a small number reported that they understand or implement best practices related to online security." Only a small number (9% and 8% respectively) of respondents chose their email or social networking services primarily based on the provider's refusal to share information with their country's government.
Unfortunately, times are not the best for bloggers and journalists in the Middle East or Central Asia. Shaimaa Khalil, a journalist for the BBC, was recently arrested in Cairo, while an amazing data map was recently released of violence against journalists in Afghanistan.
[Image: Mike Licht]