Over the past few months a worldwide protest movement has arisen with the aim of stopping various planned legislative moves for tighter regulation and control of the internet. Opponents of these proposed laws believe they endanger freedom on the internet. Yet the debates waged on this matter have also made it clear that “Freedom on the Net” has different shades of meaning in different states. In many autocratic states it primarily means the simple freedom to speak your mind without fear of physical reprisals.
FutureChallenges has seen through its bloggers how the internet gives people in authoritarian states a voice with which they can draw attention to their situation. This is why futurechallenges.org in partnership with theInternetundGesellschaftCo:llaboratory and theKonradAdenauerStiftung has now launched the irrepressiblevoices.org project. A special channel on YouTube is dedicated to showing how FutureChallenges’ and other bloggers can engage with social media to put the spotlight on violations of human rights, and how activists and bloggers can encourage other people to take a stand.
In a globalized world it’s not just markets that are moving ever close together but people as well – and the internet is one of the key channels for bringing them closer together. The newly launched irrepressiblevoices.org project should help to give a voice to those many people who otherwise cannot easily make themselves heard.
This blogpost has originally been published on futurechallenges.org.
There are a few combinations of words that I don’t bear to hear anymore: Facebook and Revolution; Arab Spring and Facebook/Twitter. These are just two examples.
This does not mean that I don’t reckon the societal implications that social media do have. Quite the opposite is true (see my article Digital Revolutions: Beyond Tunisia and Egypt). For quite a long time you couldn’t read anything on political activism without a side note to the Arab spring and Social Media/Twitter/Facebook. Today, it happended again and it was one of these articles that you can hardly read without getting upset. (The article is written in German and was published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The Headline could be translated by There’s no revolution from your couch).
The author of the article cites another journalist who describes the Internet as a perfect „narcotic“ which is more effective as a TV because watching TV often happens in groups which implies direct conversations. Social scientists are cited who say that a decline in crime rates across Europe can be traced back to the fact that potential criminals spend more time in front of screens.
Another paragraph asks where Chinese bloggers were lingering when the Chinese regime feared upheavals and the answer is that they were blogging in their bedrooms (instead of taking to the streets). Could you be more cynical when you write about political activism in authoritarian countries?
I heard comments like this a few times before. Do those people actually have an idea how many bloggers are imprisoned all over the world because they express their opinion online? They could have a quick look at the Reporters Without Borders’ website and search for “bloggers”. Do they know how many people live under constant threat of being punished for their (political) online activities? Obviously not.
I think that journalists, analysts of politicial activism and others should be more careful before writing something like “No revolution from your couch”. It’s easy to write lines like that from a desk in a comfortable office in countries that are democratic, free and well-off in general. However, there are people all over the world whose only opportunity to express their opinion is online. And even this can be very dangerous!
I would like to point towards a video on “Human Rights and the Internet” by the Internet and Society Co:llaboratory in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and FutureChallenges. It shows the potential of the Internet in promoting human rights.