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From Samizdat to Twitter: How Technology Is Making Censorship Irrelevant

• Peter Kirwan via WIRED
To understand what the web has done for free speech, it’s necessary to think about how Natalya Gorbanevskaya and her fellow dissidents produced 65 issues of the samizdat publication Chronicle Of Current Events in the Soviet Union between 1968 and 1983.

The Soviet state controlled access to printing presses and photocopiers. So when it was time to publish, Gorbanebskaya would tap out six identical copies of Chronicle on a contraband typewriter. Next, she distributed these editions to six friends, who would, in turn, type out further copies before distributing them to additional readers.

Distribution was slow and extremely risky. Like dozens of others involved in the production of Chronicle, Gorbanevskaya was arrested by the 9th Division of the Fifth Chief Directorate of the KGB, which was specifically charged with rooting out samizdat. In 1969, she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and confined to a mental hospital for three years.

Today, there are only two countries in the world where censorship-induced paralysis exists on anything like a comparable scale: Burma and North Korea. Everywhere else, the terms of trade between free speech and censorship have improved since the Cold War.

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