Scholars Debate the Pros and Cons of Internet Freedom

By Lauren Mateer, '13

The Park Scholars met Saturday to discuss Evgeny Morozov’s “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.” The book focuses on the role of the Internet in activism and social justice, and the restrictions in challenges that come with this role in terms of government interference and access.

“The Net Delusion” served as to contextualize and provide an alternative perspective to the Fall 2012 Saturday Seminar book, a memoir by Arab Spring revolutionary Wael Ghonim (“Revolution 2.0”). This counterpoint function became clear in the small group discussions that started the seminar and were facilitated by program director Dr. Matt Fee, Assistant Dean Bryan Roberts, Associate Professor Arhlene Flowers, and Associate Professor Jack Powers.

Junior Cady Lang said that her group was particularly focused on this aspect of the book. “The small group discussion presented a forum for us to compare and contrast Morosov’s book with Ghonim’s book,” Lang said. “My group focused strongly on discussing the differences between the two.”

In the afternoon, the Park Scholars watched segments from “Democracy Now” featuring Tor Project developer Jacob Appelbaum and former NSA whistleblower William Binney, as well as a “Frontline” segment on government surveillance through technology. The videos were meant to demonstrate the effect of Internet surveillance in the United States and also included information about proposed legislation to regulate and monitor Internet use.

“It was something we talked about in our group discussion,” senior Erin Irby said. “Assistant Dean Bryan Roberts told us about his research with child media consumption and it was interesting to analyze our own experiences with the Internet and critically think about how that will shape society and our culture.”

A chapter in “The Net Delusion” regarding the prevalence of “slacktivism” on the internet was the inspiration for the day’s third activity. Slacktivism, a portemanteu of “slacker” and “activism,” is a term describing actions with no real benefit to the cause they are intended to support.

The scholars were split into small groups and given one of three categories: local, national, and international or global. Each group chose a non-profit organization from within their category and examined its social media strategy to determine if supporters had the opportunity to be slacktivists or if the organization successfully promoted a proactive approach. The groups also discussed suggestions for improving the social media strategy of organizations such as PETA, Doctors Without Borders, and Sustainable Tompkins, or explained why their chosen organizations’ media strategies were successful.

Throughout the day, the Saturday Seminar focused on how the Internet can be an asset or a challenge in organizing for activism and how technology can affect the success of contemporary social justice campaigns, as well as examining the intersection of Internet freedom and government regulation. The Park Scholars looked critically at Morozov’s book as well as the “Democracy Now” and “Frontline” clips and the media fuelled discussion of media creators’ and users’ role in promoting an activist, rather than slacktivist, strategy for social justice issues.  


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