The Internet is an open, public space. The Internet is the same in most countries, except for places like China and Iran. These are two common “myths” about the Internet that many users, particularly those in the industrialized north, seem to believe. And in many cases, these ideas have been used by activists in campaigns aimed at protecting the open web. And yet we know they are not true: roughly 90% of online space is owned by private companies, most of which are based in the US or Western Europe.
Mainstream media tend to focus on extreme examples of Internet policy and practice in authoritarian countries, but it’s clear that every government in the world is concerned about how the Internet changes society and what this means for their ability to lead or control a nation. And users in every country face different challenges -- political, economic, and technological -- when it comes to using the Internet.
Global Voices Advocacy is a network of writers living in 120 different countries around the world. Our diverse, highly distributed network often leaves us painfully aware of how uneven and unequal the global Internet can be. Through reporting, discussion, and advocacy on issues of Internet policy and practice around the globe, we’re working to promote a more open and equal online world. But it’s a tough challenge. We believe a user’s right to express herself freely, without fear of retribution, deserves strong protection under the law -- this is where much open Internet advocacy begins. But in many of the countries where our authors live, surveillance precludes any effort, honest or not, to protect free expression.
Using examples from Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela, and the MENA region, this conversation will focus on experiences of Internet users and activists in the global south, the relationship between free expression and surveillance in these countries, and the immeasurable effect of surveillance on one’s ability to think and act freely.