The Future of Freedom and Control in the Internet Age

Last night, the Open Society Institute held an interesting discussion that I attended on The Future of Freedom and Control in the Internet Age . There was a lively online debate while those viewers were watching the live stream. My comments are towards the bottom.

Panelist Rebecca MacKinnon spoke extenisvely on the topic of china. She summarizes with the power of a naughty video that’s gone viral in China. Alpaca Sheep can be mistaken for “screw your mother.” Censorship takes a hit. Panelist Evgeny Morozov spoke on Russia and touched on topics of Eastern Europe.

I found several thoughts to be most compelling from this fascinating and up to the minute conversation:

1. The internet is the most trusted source of news in Russia. Правда? I’m curious why this is. With a country that was built on propaganda for (arguably) 80 years, is new better or is there something else.

2. In Russia, they don’t know what exists and what doesn’t because anything that’s censored is removed from the internet after only briefly seeing the light of day. Therefore, the type of censorship they engage in doesn’t actually make it to Reporters Without Borders reports and other watchdogs.

3. Digital refugee. Evgeny mentioned the story of a Georgian blogger who was getting hacked on livejournal. The result was that the site actually crashed and he had to move to another platform, wordpress, that was shortly thereafter also hacked. Thus he bounced from site to site as a “digital refugee.” It’s interesting to see this trend on the rise and the implications on internet freedoms.

4. The first big test of internet freedom will be this worldwide economic downturn. Now that there is discontent, how will that be “controlled”

5. Chinese businessmen are not censored. Blackberrys there can access human rights sites because they do not present a critical mass of a threat.

6. Rebecca’s idea that there needs to be a stronger advocacy for citizen awareness about how governments and telecommunications interact. Because they are the way that we access our governing bodies, it is in our interest for that layer to be clear, but little knowledge of what that really means.

Moderator Isabel Hilton summed up saying that we need to send Blackberrys strapped to Alpaca Sheep to China (with the battery taken out of course). Great discussion.