|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 32||January 12, 1998|
The Internet's potential as a forum for unfiltered communication makes it a powerful tool for activists -- as well as a serious threat to those who benefit from restricting the flow of information. While civil liberties advocates are on the front lines of the struggle to ensure free speech in cyberspace, all activists who use the Internet have a stake in the outcome. That's because the filters that restrict access to cyber-porn sites are just as likely to restrict access to cyber-activism sites.
In recent weeks, several compelling reports have been published on the Web that help put this issue into perspective.
One is a detailed research report on the potential impact of filtering software, issued last month by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The report, "Faulty Filters: How Content Filters Block Access to Kid Friendly Information on the Internet," documents how search engines like those recommended by Internet rating system advocates can block up to 99 percent of the material on the Internet that might interest young people.
The report is at: http://www.epic.org/reports/filter-report.html.
The topics that EPIC researched included popular subjects of academic study such as Thomas Edison and Emily Dickinson. EPIC found that as more information became available, more of it was likely to be blocked.
For a more personal perspective on the issue, see "When You're Blocked Online, Where Can You Go," by Andy Oram, who moderates the Cyber Rights mailing list for Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR).
First published by the American Reporter, the article is now on the Web at: http://www.oreilly.com/people/staff/andyo/ar/online_support.html.
Oram's essay offers "real life" examples of how lives have been changed for the better because of access to online information that isn't readily available through other channels. Software that blocks access, he argues, also cuts the lifeline that leads to acceptance for countless individuals who are lonely, or isolated, or confused.
The Global Internet Liberty Campaign, and international alliance of organizations concerned about internet censorship, discusses the human rights implications of software filtering in comments drafted in response to proposals for an international agreement on software filtering standards. The comments, along with links to other GILC writings on this and related issues, are at http://www.gilc.org/speech/ratings/gilc-pics-submission.html.
With the proliferation of Web development software and low-cost Internet access, there is really no limit to cyberspace activism. Anyone with a cause, a computer, and an Internet service account can launch a grassroots campaign.
Although many activist Web sites are narrowly focused on a specific issue, the technology also lets an individual activist address a wide range of issues. Richard Petersen's Web site is an interesting example of the latter. A resident of San Francisco, Petersen has created an eclectic site that addresses a range of local issues that are of particular concern to him.
Petersen's site is at: http://www.zpub.com. Initially, the zpub site served as an easy access point to Bay Area alternative media. But over time, Petersen expanded the site.
Recent editions include a history section that features contact information on local historians http://www.zpub.com/sf/history/, a section where readers can contribute their comments and suggestions about the Bay Area's major newspapers, http://www.zpub.com/sf/chron-exam.html and a forum on San Francisco's controversial Muni transit system where local residents can discuss potential solutions to transit problems and share their own personal transit horror stories http://www.zpub.com/fixmuni/.
The Benton Foundation recently expanded its Web site to include a section entitled "Best Practices Toolkit" http://www.benton.org/Practice/Toolkit, which features pointers to sites where activists can learn more about making effective use of the Internet and other new technology.
In addition to the list of sites recommended by Benton's staff, the site includes pointers to electronic newsletters (including NetAction Notes), discussion lists that address issues of concern to non-profit organizations, sites with information about funding available to organizations to expand their technological capacity, and sites focused on Internet-based fundraising.
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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