2012-03-09

Co.Exist

Fighting Internet Censorship With A Massive, Shepard Fairey-Designed Street Art Campaign

Weapons of Mouse Destruction is fighting countries that cut off their citizens’ Internet access by enlisting you to add your voice (and picture) to the fight. Help out and you may see your obscured face on a building, calling out censors.

"Not enough people know about Internet censorship," says Raina Kumra, director of innovation for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and one of the poster children for Fast Company’s Generation Flux. To galvanize public opposition to censorship, she’s helped Saman Arbabi launch a global awareness campaign--dubbed "Weapons of Mouse Destruction"--which will plaster photos of users censoring themselves around the world.

The campaign has already brought in some heavy hitters: The artwork and logo was designed by Obama "Hope" poster creator Shepard Fairey and Twitter cofounder Evan Williams has lent his (covered) face to the initial set of photos.

Users are invited to upload a picture of themselves with the iconic two-handed censorship pose (or the iconic auteur framing an imaginary shot, depending on who you ask) to Facebook, Twitter, and via their website, WeaponsOfMouseDestruction.org. According to the press release:

This image is symbolic because it is a strong visual statement against censorship and it demonstrates solidarity for those who are oppressed under censorship. Covering everything except the eyes is also a way of protecting those participants that are living in countries with oppressive governments.

After the campaign reaches a critical mass of images, it plans to cover major cities and art venues with the photos, with the help of 2011 TED award-winning street artist, "JR," who will lend the campaign his massive printing and posting resources.

Iran "is more afraid of its own people, than they are from any foreign enemy," says Saman Arbabi, co-creator of the Iranian blacklisted Parazit, a Daily Show-like news parody program that has become wildly popular in Iran, despite being heavily blocked by the government. Arbabi, who is spearheading the campaign with the advisement of Kumra, argues that the eventual goal of the awareness campaign is two-fold.

First, to stop corporations from providing technological assistance to Iran. For instance, after it was discovered that Nokia had, wittingly or not, helped provide the Iranian government with monitoring technology, the company publicly reduced its involvement.

Second, "there are solutions out there that we haven’t been able to find," says Kumra. In the near future, the team hopes, someone will be able to develop satellite or other Internet technologies that can penetrate Iran’s Internet filters. Such attempts are in the works, such as State Department-sanctioned "Internet in a box." With the help of citizen-scientists, the team hopes for a breakthrough even sooner.

Done right, awareness campaigns can be extraordinarily successful. Just this week, Invisible Children garnered millions of views for their anti-child-soldier campaign, "Kony 2012." Even though the contentious approach has encountered some resistance, it speaks to how a well-done social media art project can make international issues instantly salient.

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2 Comments

  • Johanansowah

    Hello, I am a student at Chantilly High School in Virginia writing an
    essay on the drawbacks of the availability of internet to young children
    as well as the negative effects such exposure can have. Your input in
    some of these questions would drastically improve my research. I have a
    few questions I would like to ask.

    1. Should the government regulate the amount of internet censorship among children?

    2. What are some of the negative consequences as illustrated by real
    life example that result when children are exposed to too much of the
    wrong kind of information on the internet?

    3. Should there be age restrictions on internet use, as there are with things like driving and drinking alcohol?

    4. Does the government, or do certain agencies, have the right to seize
    the privilege of the internet to young people who are abusing it?

    5. If at all, to what degree should the internet be censored for adults?

    Your input in at least a few of these questions would be appreciated. Thank you for your time.