Censors Get Nervous as Live Streaming Grows


Internet users trying to access Justin.tv from within Thailand are currently being forwarded to a government website telling them that access to Justin.tv is temporarily suspended due to an “emergency situation.”

The emergency in question is civil unrest against Thailand’s government. Protests, which have also been dubbed the Red shirt movement, have been going on for more than a year now, but have become more intense in recent weeks. Opposition groups and expats supporting their efforts have used sites like Justin.tv to report about their cause in real time, and Thailand’s government finally responded around two weeks ago by blocking the site.

Justin.tv VP of Marketing Evan Solomon told us that this is to his knowledge the first time the site has been targeted by such censorship efforts, but there are indicators that other countries are also growing wary about the possibilities live streaming offers activists and opposition movements.

Justin.tv told us that about a third of their Thai traffic used to go to two opposition live streams, one of which is run by a coalition of opposition groups that calls itself the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship. The channel has received 250,000 views so far, with the second stream showing around 180,000 views. “[A] ton of Thai people have used Justin.tv to get news from and about the protests going on in their country,” said Solomon.

Thai Internet users get to see this page when trying to access Justin.tv.

Opposition groups around the world have been embracing new media as a way to spread their message as well as keep in touch with supportive expats, especially in face of government-controlled media and restrictions against foreign media. Anti-government protesters in Burma used Facebook, YouTube (s GOOG) and web bulletin boards during their 2007 uprising, and Iranian protesters made heavy use of Twitter during the protests following last year’s disputed election.

Anti-democratic governments have tried to quell these new forms of public discourse by blocking sites and services used by opposition movements. Online video sites have long been on those blocklists as well. YouTube has been blocked in China ever since the violence in Tibet in March of 2008, and Thailand briefly blocked access to YouTube in 2007 in response to a video making fun of Thailand’s king.

Live streaming sites seem to have flown under the radar of many regimes so far, but it seems like this is about to change as more and more users broadcast live video. Ustream said in March that its users upload some 120 million live video streams each month, resulting in 3200 concurrent live streams being available at any given time.

That’s apparently enough to make some censors nervous: There have been multiple reports about Turkey blocking access to Ustream.tv. Turkey is currently blocking access to a total of 3700 websites, according to Reporters without Borders.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Is Google’s China Problem a Groundswell of the Closed Internet? (subscription required)


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