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Greg Lefevre

Surfing Silicon Valley:

Kosovo: The message always gets through

March 30, 1999
Web posted at: 3:10 p.m. EST (2010 GMT)

By San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg Lefevre

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The expulsion of Western reporters from Yugoslavia means much of the information is coming from individuals posting messages on the Internet.

egroup Web site

CNN's Greg Lefevre takes a look at the role the Internet is playing in the current Kosovo conflict -- March 31
Windows Media 28K 80K

"This is very early on in this crisis and Milosevic moved very quickly to try to silence those sources of information," said Alex Fowler of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. is posting messages from the "front." An American reader can almost hear the accent in the broken English and misspellings: A woman writes, "Last night there were again about 50 missile targets ... Most people were in cellars and shelters ... In Pristina last night there was many bombings and our friends say that it was a frightening sound. ... the city is full of Serbian army tenks and jeeps and other vehicles."

A man tries to sound casual about it all: "Today we have sunny and warm weather in Belgrade ... Last night's raid was civilized and decent -- it all ended at midnight, so we could go to sleep in our beds, not in shelters ... But this very moment the sirens are going off ..."

Many so-called independent news organizations are supported outside their countries. The B92 radio station in Belgrade, shuttered by Yugoslavian authorities, continues to broadcast over the Internet. The station is being retransmitted over the Internet by XS4ALL, an Internet service provider in Amsterdam and by RealNetworks of Seattle, Washington.

"To see the mouse navigate the globe is astonishing. The Internet really has come into its own." Said Lucy Mhol of RealNetworks. In this case with some nudging by the company. Real donated the server B92 uses in Yugoslavia. This is at least the second time B92 has been forced off the air by the Yugoslavian government. Real says traffic on the B92 Web site is very heavy and has grown to about 40,000 Internet listeners, most of them in Europe.

Fowler of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the clampdown by the government of Slobodan Milosevic plays right into the hands of those who use the World Wide Web. "In the situation that we're seeing right now where Milosevic has expelled all foreign reporters the Internet becomes a very important tool for continuing to get independent sources of information about what's actually happening."

Some warnings

Those who do speak out over the Web should beware. The regimes they criticize are listening, too.

"While the criticism of tyranny is one of the most profound forms of democratic speech, it's also some of the most dangerous type of speech," Fowler warns. "People posting on line should take some very easy precautions."

B92 online
B92 Web site   

He suggests that users:

  • Try to minimize the amount of personal information that they post about themselves.
  • Use encryption.
  • Use a variety of anonymizing tools that are available.

    Fowler adds that those who receive missives from "behind the lines" should give thought to protecting the identities of their sources, "Just take a few seconds, remove their name and e-mail address before passing that information on."

    President Clinton used the Internet in his pitch for understanding by the Serbian people. His speech, taped Thursday, was broadcast by satellite and fed over the Internet.

    Paradoxically, the World Wide Web brings an intimacy to the war. The words are not official, they're personal; one person's view.

    Surf on ...

    Belgrade independent radio moves to Net
    March 26, 1999
    Clinton appeals via satellite to Serbs
    March 26, 1999
    Find streaming media on the Web
    March 22, 1999

    EFFweb - The Electronic Frontier Foundation
    Radio B92 OnLine
    RealNetworks - The Home of Streaming Media
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