Internet cannot cause political change in Zim — US think-tank

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A United States think-tank says the Internet cannot be used for mass mobilisation in Zimbabwe because of the various obstacles to access it.

Internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter played a pivotal role in organising mass protests that toppled powerful leaders in North Africa.

But Freedom House says this was unlikely to happen in Zimbabwe.

Freedom House says even among those that have access there was no coordinated use of social networking sites to build support for political change.

The think-tank, however, says mobile phones seem to be more effective as was evidenced during the 2008 elections when people were able to send “oppositionist and independent” versions of events.

Freedom House, which says it has been advancing freedom for the past 70 years, says in its report entitled: Freedom on the net 2011 that although there is no clear evidence that the government blocks access to digital media, there were structural constraints suggesting indirect blocking.

“For instance,” it says, “it is a requirement for every ISP (Internet service provider) to allow the government to monitor certain traffic at any given time . . .”

In the case of mobile phone companies, these must be licensed and regulated by Potraz whose members are appointed by the President in consultation with the Minister of Transport and Communication.

Freedom House says Internet usage has grown rapidly from 0,3% of the population in 2000 to 12% by 2009. But the service was still very expensive and erratic because of frequent power cuts.

There has, however, been more rapid growth in the use of mobile phones with more than five million people having access to mobile phones by September last year.

Freedom House says sites like Facebook were mainly used for friendly chats and renewing lapsed social contacts, possibly because of the lack of anonymity on such sites, and fear of repercussions if politically-oriented statements were traced back to those expressing them.

“Debates on the country’s political and socio-economic issues and reactions to Internet stories on Zimbabwe are mostly confined to chatrooms and feedback sections of online news sites,” it said.