International Internet forum: Access, Truth and Lies

We speak with women internet activists from across Asia as they take on questions of fake news, censorship, surveillance and feminism.

Sabtu, 24 Jun 2017 14:12 WIB

A panel at Stockholm Internet Forum (Photo: Ric Wasserman)

A panel at Stockholm Internet Forum (Photo: Ric Wasserman)

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Have you ever thought about whether access to the internet should be a human right? 

Online media has changed so quickly in recent years. Government and regulatory bodies are struggling to find ways to catch up.

Ric Wasserman recently met internet activists at the Stockholm Internet Forum, where the big questions - from fake news to online government repression-  were on the agenda.

Mention Clinton and Trump, or even the French election, and before long the conversation inevitably turns to fake news. 

Many of us are worried by the rise of fake news, and the way online rumours are having massive impacts in the real world. 

But for journalist Maria Salam, the danger is immediate: Fake news is having violent and life threatening impacts in her home country, Bangladesh. 

"A number of houses and temples of Hindu peoples were vandalised in five villages in central Bangladesh over a fake Facebook post,” she recalled.

Five temples lie in ruins. Hundreds of people fled, running for their lives.

Salam continued, "Later it was found that the account was created by using the name and photograph of a person who doesn’t even know how to operate Facebook.”

Social media isn’t regulated like traditional media. Quality and accuracy checks just don’t exist. And it’s both a downfall and a strength. 

On the one hand, fake information is proliferating. On the other hand, journalists and activists are finding new ways to mobilise.

Maria Ressa is CNN’s former Jakarta bureau chief, but in 2012 she left CNN to start online news site, Rappler.

"I was tired of throwing stories into a black hole,” Maria said. "I mean, you do a certain number of stories, you see that but if you work for CNN very rarely do you see that have an impact on your culture, in your society.”

Maria aimed to set up an online forum where professional journalists, citizen journalists, and ordinary people could take part in meaningful conversations.

"When we set up Rappler it was to try to figure out how this new technology could help journalists actually create communities of action that would have real world impact.”

Even though Maria loves the possibilities for open debate, and the absence of gatekeepers on the internet, she’s also faced its dark side.

"When they say something on social media they’re virulently, violently attacked," Ressa said, speaking from experience. "It’s not that ’I disagree with you Maria’, it is you should be killed. You should be raped. The attacks are virulent and they’re meant to silence.”

Effectively censoring content on the internet is a mammoth and unwieldy task. 

In Malaysia, as the government sees its powers of censorship whittle away, they are trying to crack down. 

Several news sites were closed down last year after they reported on corruption.  Bloggers and  anti-government dissidents are also harrassed.

Malaysian writer and activist Jac Sm Kee says a pitched battle is being waged over freedom of expression online.

"There’s been numerous attempts to basically change the Communications and Multimedia Act to make it more punitive, in terms of what people do online,” Sm Kee explained.

The Act, which crimalises communication that could be considered offensive or cause annoyance, is broad and open to subjective interpretation- allowing it to be used as a political weapon.

Don’t gripe, organize, says Jac Sm Kee. Along with her team, she developed the Feminist Principles of the Internet. It’s goal- to employ technology towards ending discrimination.

"We need a people’s charter on internet rights and freedoms,” she declared. "We can’t sit here and just react to whatever the government says the internet should or should not be.” 

Jac and her team are challenging cultures of sexism, and working towards unrestricted internet access for women and queer people.

There’s still plenty of doubt around where the internet will take us in future: Should there be order, or anarchy? Who should decide, individuals or governments?  

"A new order needs to be established. Who is in control of establishing that order?” asked Ressa. "I don’t believe it’s legislation. We fight battles for our communities. Trust need to be rebuilt. How are we going to do that?” 

The Stockholm Internet Forum did reach consensus on one issue: Access to the internet should be enshrined as a human right. That means no one would be left offline because they are unable to pay. 

 

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