Is Blogging A Privilege Or A Right?

I’ve been following the news lately about what has been going on in Egypt. It’s strange — I am usually not interested in politics; however, if it involves something with the regulation of technology and communications I am all ears. (No pun intended.)

Crowd Praying As Tanks Move In - Egyptian #DayOfAnger - By the Associated Press - Posted on MSNBC.com

Today I learned that Egypt has the largest and most active blogosphere in the Arab world, and their work is done at great personal risk. Some stats that I found were also fascinating:

  • Egyptian bloggers are young. The median age of their bloggers is 24.
  • They voice their concerns via websites, blogs, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter (just like us!).
  • Egyptian bloggers report on human rights violations, political injustices, and the social condition.
  • Bloggers are routinely harassed, imprisoned, tortured or sometimes murdered depending on the severity of their “crimes.”
  • They tend to be the “children of Cairo’s intellectuals, radicals and activists.”
  • Blogger-to-blogger relationships tend to be virtual and loosely organized, but they may converse in real life late at night in shabby downtown cafes.
  • Egyptian bloggers are routinely arrested for speaking out.
  • There are currently more than 20 people serving prison sentences for “crimes” connected to cyberactivism.
  • They organize and mobilize using social media and mobile technology.
  • Egyptian women bloggers initially outnumbered men. At the start, some 70 percent of bloggers were women. Now, they are probably just over 50 percent.
  • Egyptian women make up 30 percent of all Internet users in Egypt. However, women comprise only 24% of the working population.
  • 44 percent of women are literate, compared to 67 percent of men.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog at all you may have seen the post where I outline my upcoming ’round-the-world travels. My first planned international destination was, indeed, Cairo, only to be followed by Alexandria. I also thought that it would be nice to plan a quick jaunt to the port city of Said. So, with this recent civil unrest, it will probably be very important that I stay abreast of any breaking developments and perhaps also get to know a few bloggers there. I’ve done some research and have already added a few to my Google Reader, but if you have any suggestions, or if you are a blogger from Egypt, I’d love to connect with you. Feel free to contact me by leaving a comment or using my contact page.

And to follow up on my post from yesterday on what American bloggers can do amidst the state of this crisis, perhaps one more thing to add to the list is to find and follow an Egyptian (or otherwise international) blogger. Most of the blogging community enjoys creating information just as much as they enjoy consuming it. So, consider adding some blogs from different parts of the world to round out your blogosphere-worldview a bit. The freedom of communication is not just in creating content for others to consume, but also in following someone else’s worldview. Engage with the larger community. Do your part to keep communications a two-way process.

In the meantime I designed a small poster from a rather powerful quote I came across in my readings. It seems as though my own personal work is addressing issues as they relate to technology. What do you think about the message?

Egyptian Cyberactivist #DayOfAnger - By Amara Poolswasdi

Sources and other popular links:

The Kill Switch, #DayOfAnger, and Fragility Of It All

Net neutrality sparked conversation all throughout the blogosphere and Twittersphere this week with historic events like the State of the Union address and Egypt’s Day of Anger. These events have pointed back to the discussion of net neutrality and sovereignty of nations over digital communications.

Do we have a right to expect digital communications to remain free of political trickery? If Egypt could pull the plug on the Internet for their citizens, couldn’t something like that ostensibly happen to us in the free world? And since we rely on commercial providers, and because commerce isn’t immune to political lobbying or pressure, aren’t we all at risk?

The short answer is yes.

Although there is no silver bullet that will fix all of our worldly problems, I think the best thing we can do right now as citizens of a relatively free country is to take advantage of all of the resources we have at our disposal. We should be using technology to open up communications, carry intelligent conversations, and help others achieve freedom through technology. Oh, and if you can swing it, I would sign up for premium level services for your favorite apps. If web apps were member and customer supported instead of being backed by actual investors with agendas, I believe that we could keep autonomy over our technology.

So, tonight, I will be spending my time with these wonderful objects of my affection and staying true to my word! How will you further the Internet? Will you be generating content or just letting a few select people tell our collective story?

Can Net Neutrality Realistically Exist?

Net Neutrality Poster by BugbyteHeated discussions are abound online and off regarding net neutrality.

Let’s take a second to actually define net neutrality so that we aren’t operating from errant presuppositions. Net neutrality has been defined as a “buzzword used to describe a principle proposed for users’ access to networks participating in the Internet. The principle advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and the modes of communication.

My opinion in 140 characters or less: Net neutrality is a GOOD idea, but impossible to achieve under our current global infrastructure. #EPICFAIL. PLS RT

My expanded opinion: Let me preface everything I am about to say with this statement — I believe that the concept of net neutrality is fundamentally just and right; it is Utopian in its ideals and has a genuinely deep-seeded objective of freedom of information through technology. Unfortunately, like most of the consortiums, news outlets, and textbooks we have at our disposal, every information source is subject to bias, opinion, and bastardization.

Dalai Lama Tweet

I present to you five obstacles that are currently in our way of complete net neutrality:

1. Commercial Internet Service Providers: As it stands, the Internet is primarily a pay-to-play arrangement. Because access to the Internet isn’t inherently free to begin with, the trickle-down effect presupposes that the actual content that you receive once you get online won’t really be free either. This results in media that is placed or paid, through journalistic perspectives, sales/marketing objectives, or agendas of major financial backers realized through a farm team of advocates. (See #4.) IRL examples: Google search engine advertising; Software/hardware/appware strategic partnerships for smartphones (i.e. Motorola Droid with Google via Verizon Wireless service with Amazon MP3 store preinstalled).

2. Governments and Political Agendas: (In this case I am using “governments” and “political” in their fundamental context, where institutions that regulate any social relationships via authority or power qualify as a government or political institution and can carry out the agenda of a select few. This can be the city/state/national government, a religious institution, an educational system, and other culturally accepted bodies of authority) Governments are supposed to work with us, not against us. Unfortunately this has been the struggle since the beginning of recorded history since our usual protocol is 1) we elect them, 2) we decide we don’t like how they’re running things, 3) we do nothing about it OR we inefficiently try to solve the problem by addressing the symptoms and not the causes of our problems. IRL examples: The Great California Marijuana Debate, PETA.

3. Lack of Web-wide Credibility Standards: There is no governing body or accreditation of information provided online. There is no “stamp of approval” to qualify truths and credible information. Currently, credibility is cloaked by commercial and political agendas. Because you essentially “get what you pay for,” the rules of caveat emptor (buyer beware) apply. Credibility is being bought and sold like a commodity — and when that “credibility” has the power to sway nations into action or economies into tailspins, then yes, I suppose you can in fact put a dollar figure on it. Unfortunately, since information is not a tangible good, you cannot “return” it. All you can do is try to erase it from our collective memory, but unfortunately, the information has been imprinted in our culture and thought processes. I don’t know about you but my mental environment is much more expensive than the Internet bill I received and paid for. IRL examples: All unsponsored content in the blogosphere.

4. Paid, Earned, and Owned Media, a.k.a. Commercial Agents of Information:  It’s hard to report the news with freedom from commercial interests when there are bills to pay. Whether it’s through sponsorship, controlling interest, or strategic injection of loaded opinions or material, paid, earned, and owned media makes it difficult to have an honest conversation. If someone is paying to place content, it’s not unadulterated truth: it’s advertising. If it’s a story that has been deemed newsworthy by a writer, an editor, etc., the story probably got to them through marketing and PR efforts…and that qualifies as earned media. If the media channel itself is owned by a person or a company, and not the people, then it has an agenda. Logically then, by those standards, all paid, earned, and owned media serve as commercial agents of information. IRL examples: My mother watched a video news release on Christmas Day and thought it was factual and not opinionated. Public radio stations getting paid to play the same songs over and over again. Texas rewriting textbooks that will eventually be distributed to the rest of the United States.

5. Dumb People: Not everyone will make the best choices with the information they find online. This isn’t to stay ignorant people are to blame. (Ignorant people just don’t know. Dumb people don’t know any better.) Dumb people — the people who read unmoderated information and believe it to be the truth without challenging the PR spin, the loaded statements, and/or the statistics blown out of proportion — make net neutrality dangerous. For the most part, people who are fighting for net neutrality tend to be pretty intelligent people to begin with. They can form cohesive statements and arguments in any direction if they tried. If said dumb person reads unmoderated, unfiltered information online and can’t discern between truth and false, and right and wrong, then net neutrality puts all of us relatively intelligent people at risk. IRL examples: Woman gets murdered after changing her Facebook relationship status. Tea Party mind control rhetoric. Kid finds recipe to make a pipe bomb and blows up the neighborhood by accident.

My conclusion:

  • Net neutrality begins internally — we must first examine our collective processes of the way we consume, interpret, and synthesize information.
  • A completely free Internet dilutes the collective intelligence required to discern truth from false.
  • To truly achieve net neutrality, we must all break down the obstacles that are in our way. Seeing as though said obstacles are finely engrained in our global infrastructure, its pursuit many actually cause more harm than good. (Will the ends justify the means?)
  • We ought to focus on closing the digital divide before we focus on net neutrality. We put the cart before the horse again.
  • Net neutrality is Utopian and worth striving for. We just need to proceed with caution.

I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on it! What’s your opinion on net neutrality?