Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Former minister speaks on power of Internet

By Tang Chia-ling  /  Staff reporter

Former minister of education Ovid Tzeng speaks during an interview on June 15.

Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

Former education minister Ovid Tzeng (曾志朗) has called on Internet users to cultivate better ethics and exhibit a positive influence online amid an era of Internet dominance.

Tzeng, currently a minister without portfolio, made the remark in a recent interview with the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), during which he described the Internet as a product of modern technology “by which people live and die.”

“[The] Internet played an integral role in a recent series of international and domestic events, such as the Jasmine Revolution that had stirred up a spate of social unrests in Arab countries with people calling for freedom and reform, and has seen the fall of several dictators,” said Tzeng, who is also an academic at Academia Sinica.

Both former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have been toppled as the result of the widespread revolutions, Tzeng said, which were generally believed to be fueled through the channels of microblogging site Twitter and pro-Internet freedom Web site WikiLeaks.

The immense influence of the Internet can also be seen in other events that occurred nearby, such as the scandal of former Chinese Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來), formerly one of China’s most powerful politicians, as well as Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng’s (陳光誠) escape from extralegal house arrest in China, Tzeng said.

In Taiwan, a recent online frenzy of “Dan Ding Black Tea (淡定紅茶),”a dramatic breakup story that went viral on the Internet, also capitalized on the Internet’s main feature of transmitting information beyond national borders and became widely circulated, he said.

From an evolutionary aspect, Tzeng said, interpersonal communication had changed gradually from face-to-face contact since ancient times to written words, which could be preserved and passed down to future generations.

People subsequently entered the digital era that brought about a faster pace of communication and larger storage of content, followed by the emergence of social networks within which people are allowed to be omnipresent and to make immediate responses, Tzeng said.

“[These developments] have conferred enormous power to netizens,” Tzeng added.

Despite the common habit of netizens using fictitious identities on the Internet, the former minister still lauded their actions.

“Through [fabricated identities], people can better exercise their freedom of speech and say the things they did not dare say in public life, which [I believe] could help them find strong support and broaden their perspective,” Tzeng said.

Tzeng said that in the face of growing incidences of rumor-mongering and personal defamations online, a growing number of enlightened Internet users have started rectifying such falsified remarks, making the Internet more “correct” than ever.

“Such ‘dark power’ will eventually be wiped out by the growing number of righteous netizens,” he said.

However, Tzeng added that what was more alarming was how some totalitarian regimes fabricated online identities with the aim of inciting rumors, or monitoring and censoring online activities.

Tzeng also mentioned that most European or US-based large-scale corporations were seeking to procure face-recognition software, which they mulled selling to authoritarian nations for the “dreadful purpose” of tracking down dissidents.

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