Technology is neutral; its uses are not. Of all great scientific advances in recent decades, media technology has been the most sensitive because it is inherently political. The control and spread of information relates directly to how power is concentrated or shared among citizens in any given society. In most developed economies, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, blogging and text messaging are social networks for youngsters and people to connect, entertain and make friends. But their more frivolous functions are superseded in many developing countries. From Iran to China, in Myanmar and across the Middle East, they take on a more serious function as cyberspace becomes a new political battleground. Many governments have a love-hate relationship with the internet and its related communication networks. They are enamoured of cyberspace's commercial potential, and the means of control and monitoring they offer authorities over their citizens. But it is in the nature of digital media that it cuts both ways. As more citizens become politically aware and alert, many become active netizens. Monks and their supporters who staged protests in Myanmar in 2007 used the internet to broadcast their plight to the outside world. Supporters of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-government activists have, in recent years, used text messages to organise their rallies. Yesterday, the Facebook page of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iran's defeated reformist presidential candidate, called for a 'crucial' Tehran march, in defiance of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed the election result and called for an end to protest rallies. Mr Mousavi's supporters have been using Twitter and Facebook to spread information about allegations of election fraud and to co-ordinate rallies. The movement has depended upon the internet to maintain its momentum. In turn, the Iranian government has blocked websites, shut down servers and restricted the movements of foreign journalists. Meanwhile, mainland censors have instructed state-run media and internet sites to play down coverage of post-election protests and crackdowns in Iran. The effective use of networking internet services in Iran by anti-government protesters is surely not something mainland authorities want advertised. In recent weeks, Beijing has toughened control over internet use and access. Google in China has been told to sever links to overseas sites after being criticised for links to scores of allegedly obscene or vulgar sites. The new restriction has dramatically limited the range of information available with each search request made on the mainland. Meanwhile, mainland computer makers have been told to install a filter-and-block programme called 'Green Dam-Youth Escort' in their new products. Controversy ensues; the authorities now insist the programme is designed to filter out pornographic content only, not to spy or monitor the activities of users. Authorities and parents are right to worry about anti-social or pornographic content on the internet. But any official move that restricts internet access is bound to raise suspicions. The convergence in digital media has enabled many developing countries to leapfrog communication technology, which in turn has had a multiplying effect on economic growth. If recent history is any guide, those most able to exploit its use and enrich the lives of their citizens will move ahead in the 21st century; those clinging to outmoded notions of control will be left behind.