If you want to liberate a society, just give them the internet. If you want to have a free society, just give them the internet.”
—Wael Ghonim, Egyptian pro-democracy Internet activist and Google marketing executive
In his article, Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition, Charles Tryon says he titled his first course in which he encouraged his students to read and write blogs “Writing to the Moment.” Tryon quotes Richard Ohmann (2003: 124) in suggesting that “…higher education and schooling in general serve a democratic society by nourishing hearty citizenship.”
Currently, there is probably no better example of “writing to the moment” than the use of the Internet by the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East. Although social media like Facebook and Twitter have played a more central role in organizing protests, blogs also play a part in the expression of revolutionary sentiment throughout the region.
It is impossible not to feel the breeze of the winds of change sweeping through the Arab World today. Mesmerized by the news, and totally awestricken by the sheer fact that fear is gone; we the people of this region have finally reclaimed our long muted voice.” –From: http://www.7iber.com/
Ghonim, who through the use of Facebook helped organize the revolution that overthrew Hosney Mubarak in Egypt, said in an interview with CNN, “If you want to have a free society, just give them the internet.” But can the Internet just be “given” to a country? And can it in all cases be used freely as a tool for freedom?
In actuality, it is up to those who control political power in a dictatorship as to whether or how much access to the Internet will be “given.” As Sarah Lovenheim has written in the Washington Post, “Besides their authoritarian systems, China and Egypt share some similarities when it comes to Internet use. About one-third of each nation’s population uses the Web. (That’s 450 million people in China, and nearly 27 million people in Egypt.) But one striking difference is that Internet freedom has been much greater in Egypt, and democracy advocates have made use of it.”
In a CNN Interview, Evgeny Morozov author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” says that “People who are concerned about freedom and democracy and creating democratic values abroad…are far better off assuming the Internet will strengthen dictators. It doesn’t matter whether it will strengthen them more or less than the protesters. But by assuming that the Internet does help the bad guys, we by default adopt a far more critical attitude, for example, to Western companies that supply technologies of censorship and surveillance in these governments.”
It was lucky for the Egyptian revolutionaries that their government was so inept at censoring and controlling content. According to Morozov, who is a visiting scholar scholar at Stanford, countries like Iran, Russia, and China are much more sophisticated in their control of access and content. As Lovenheim writes in her article, content containing the words “Egypt” and “Cairo” have disappeared from the Internet in China.
According to Morozov, “…the governments we were hoping to oppose [are] becoming much smarter about the web. They [are] doing things that [are] much more sophisticated than [we] could ever expect. We thought they would just be banning websites, but they [are] actually doing things like doing data mining of social networking profiles and launching cyberattacks, and it [becomes] clear that these governments are very active consumers of these tools themselves.”
The best way to ensure our freedom of expression is to engage in it actively. In America, where freedom of speech and political assembly are thought to be guaranteed rights, a good way to engage students’ social participation can be to encourage active blogging. A good place to start is with reading blogs written by people who are fighting for their own rights and freedom.
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Revolution 2.0 as distributed collaboration:
Collaborative production, where people have to coordinate with one another to get anything done, is considerably harder than simple sharing, but the results can be more profound. New tools allow large groups to collaborate, by taking advantage of nonfinancial motivations and by allowing for wildly differing levels of contribution…Perhaps the most famous example of distributed collaboration today is Wikipedia, the collaboratively created encyclopedia that has become one of the most visited websites in the world.”
—Clay Shirkey, Personal Motivation Meets Collaborative Production
“This is revolution 2.0. No one was a hero. No one one was a hero. Because everyone was a hero. Everyone has done something. We all use Wikipedia. If you think of the concept of Wikipedia where everyone is collaborating on content. And at the end of the day you’ve built the largest encyclopedia in the world. From just an idea that sounded crazy you have the largest encyclopedia in the world. And in the Egyptian revolution, the revolution 2.0, everyone has contributed something–small or big, they contributed something–to bring us one of the most inspiring stories in the history of mankind when it comes to revolutions.”
—Wael Ghonim in his March 6th TED Address