According to the EIU’s Digital Economy Rankings, “the internet is now fundamental to commercial success and social prosperity” and further more that “societies use digital tools to move towards their collective goals more quickly.” These aforementioned goals cover the spectrum, ranging from simple efforts towards economic and education improvement to the improvement and over haul of corrupt, inefficient and inequitable governments. We have seen the latter occur in various countries in the Middle East over the last few years. Mainly, the use of social media as means for communication and organization of social efforts, as well as the use on Internet access control as a way for governments to control and maintain their citizens actions.
The use of social media through out the rebellions in Syria, Egypt, Libya and other areas is no secret. Major North American Press organizations broadcast tweets to keep viewers in the know across the globe. But more interesting than the simple ability of these 140 word messages to organize activists and rebels, was their power to inspire hope. A study done at the University of Washington concluded the following,
“Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising,” said Philip Howard, the project lead and an associate professor in communication at the University of Washington. “People who shared interest in democracy built extensive social networks and organized political action. Social media became a critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom.”
Where twitter is less popular, say for example in Tunisia, less than 20 percent of the population uses social media, but almost everyone has access to a mobile phone. Twitter helped to show us the broader world of mobile communication that was occurring, including text messages, pictures, and voice that were being transmitted.
As we take time to consider the imminent power that social media and Internet use can have in promoting the power of people over their government, we also see the power the government may have in shutting down these actions.
As seen is in this map of “Rick of Internet Disconnection” from November 2012, the majority of the world is at risk of being shut down. To this I’m posing the question, how fundamental is our right to Internet access? In what cases should the government be able to control the World Wide Web, and in what ways does this hinder any nations ability to access true and transparent democracy?