08 June 2011

You've Got to Fight for Your Right to Tweet

The United Nations today declared Internet access a basic human right.  Now, for anyone who still thinks of going online as nothing more than frivolous cat videos and porn maybe this is absurd.  Those of us who aren't so insulated from the rest of the world, however, took notice when Iranians took to the web to protest their un-democratic election in 2010 and then again during this year's Arab Spring uprisings--nearly all of which originated online.
American reaction has been surprisingly disdainful.  Here are some responses to one of the online articles I found on this subject:
Seriously!  It's time to get out of the UN.
Humans have right to life and liberty.Any rights given by a government depends on where you were born.My rights are not enjoyed by the majority of the world's population.To take from me by some unknown group and give to some unknown person is theft and a violation of my rights.  People NEED food and shelter and they need to find it.Parents NEED to provide for their children. Families need to care for their own.Communities need to work and care for their own with cooperation and respect.Communities need a method to communicae with their members preferably by oral and written language.Anyone who wants donate time, money or other resources to less fortunate are free to do so.  That's what charities are all about.I donate a significant amount to charities of my choosing. Hey UN stop stealing from me.  You are a band of theives.
I have no idea what this person means by "to take me by some unknown group and give to some unknown person is theft and a violation of my rights," but it sounds to me as though this person has been living a paranoid, isolationist lifestyle. It's easy to want to withdraw from the rest of the world, or to think of the Internet as nothing more than a selfish luxury, when you've lived in the land of milk and honey.

Sadly, this is not true for the rest of humanity.  We have a very hard time as Americans thinking about anyone else as other human beings unless it affords us the chance to play savior.  Oh, sure, in 2003 the Iraqis oppressed, imprisoned, brutalized, raped and tortured by Saddam Hussein were our fellow human beings to whom we had a moral obligation, but what were they to us on 10 September 2001?  They were little more than an abused wife in the neighborhood.  She ought to leave him, maybe somebody should do something, but as long as she's beaten inside the house and everyone can continue behaving as though they're ignorant, they can continue to hide behind the "It's none of my business" shield of cowardice.
We can no longer credibly deny we know about their abuse.
The Internet is the most powerful tool yet, because through the Internet those abused wives can in fact reach out from within their volatile homes.  They cannot make their selfish neighbors care or act, but through the web they can at least take away the "I didn't see anything/I don't know anything" excuse for inaction.  If you've lived in security and stability, you have no idea how valuable it can be just to have contact with a sympathetic person on the outside.

I post a lot of frivolous stuff on this blog, so don't think I'm going all holier-than-thou.  I'm acutely aware that across the globe there are millions of people whose idea of luxury time doesn't include such activities as reviewing comic books.  My power to affect change as an individual is limited, but as a member of society I--and you--have the power to add our voice to the collective.

For instance, recently Uganda sought to make being gay a capital offense.  Word spread throughout the Internet, resulting in numerous viral petitions and efforts to pressure the Ugandan government to reject the legislation.  Pressure was placed on leaders here in the United States and elsewhere to speak out and condemn the effort.  Ultimately, the legislation was not voted on by the Ugandan parliament and while it could be reintroduced it later, Ugandan law would require it to be presented as new legislation and not simply pick up where it left off.  Hopefully the message sent in May by the international community that putting LGBT Ugandans to death for simply being LGBT Ugandans is unacceptable.  I was proud to have signed several petitions, and for having circulated awareness of the issue via Twitter and Facebook.  People who might otherwise have never even known about this issue were not only made aware, but given the chance to act in some way to change it.
Simply put, if all the Internet means to you are Al Gore punchlines and LOL Cats, then you have had it so good for so long you don't even realize it.  You're living in a bubble and while it may feel like something you've earned or are entitled to, I can promise you that if you lived elsewhere you would come to despise that bubble and everyone in it.  The Internet is the most meaningful tool for attempting to pierce that bubble that we have yet seen, and that ultimately is a good thing.  If we're to continue withholding our support for our fellow man, let us do it in full acknowledgement that's what we're choosing to do.  Let us no longer say we didn't see nothin', don't know nothin' and it ain't none of our business.  Let us at least have the guts to say, "I know about it and I'm too selfish and too cowardly to speak up anyway."  That is literally the least we can do.

5 comments:

  1. I don't know, Travis. What's next- lattes?

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  2. Hopefully what follows unfettered access to the most powerful means of global communication yet devised will be meaningful strides toward genuine equality and peace. It's much harder to hate or ignore an entire nation if they go from being a flag and a place on a map to being actual human beings.

    But then, I'm a Trekker with my wild fantasies that maybe--just maybe--one day we'll outgrow all this petty nonsense about worrying about how much money we can make off something and instead be motivated by whether our actions will benefit mankind. That we each are entitled to live as we desire without requiring others to live that way. That there is no justification for a caste system or second-class citizens.

    So, yeah, my priorities are definitely out of whack.

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  3. I agree with you, Travis ... It's like running water and fossil fuels: we have access but does that mean that people in poverty don't have a right to it? There is a finite amount of each on the planet. Just because someone lives in "the land of milk and honey" doesn't give him privilege to use his plus someone else's share.

    The internet as a basic human right? Yes, just as basic for all of us, whether we live in the Americas or in a third world country.

    The internet is a powerful tool to which everyone should have access. If people do NOT, however, they should still have the RIGHT to access.

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  4. Brenda, your last two sentences are perfect. Too many people have reacted to the U.N.'s declaration by freaking out, arguing that "if you have a right to it then that means someone has an obligation to provide it and that's wrong." That is, of course, just the kind of "I've got mine, you're on your own"/"Leave me out of it" defense that I tried to call out in this post.

    The U.N. hasn't called for any kind of "Universal Facebook Membership" doctrine or said a thing about pressuring ISPs to provide web access to every human being across the globe. What they have said is that no one's access to the Internet should be curbed by governments. One would think, in a society that worships at the altar of Free Speech, this would be one of the easiest international issues for Americans to support. And yet, instead, the reaction I've encountered has been one of eye-rolling and resentment!

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  5. I agree with you, Travis ... It's like running water and fossil fuels: we have access but does that mean that people in poverty don't have a right to it? There is a finite amount of each on the planet. Just because someone lives in "the land of milk and honey" doesn't give him privilege to use his plus someone else's share.

    The internet as a basic human right? Yes, just as basic for all of us, whether we live in the Americas or in a third world country.

    The internet is a powerful tool to which everyone should have access. If people do NOT, however, they should still have the RIGHT to access.

    ReplyDelete