July 7th, 2008 | Published in Google Public Policy
We are passionate about protecting the Internet as a platform for free expression, and recently we helped send thirteen bloggers and activists from around the world to a forum where they discussed how they put their belief in freedom of expression into practice on a daily basis.
The Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Budapest, Hungary was a chance for 200 of these prominent bloggers, citizen journalists and NGO activists to share their experiences promoting transparency and political reform, and to discuss crucial topics like internet filtering, censorship, the role of social media and the multilingual web. I was lucky enough to join the dialogue and was moved by many of the voices and stories I heard throughout the Summit.
These bloggers are critical to the promotion of free expression and transparency on the internet. They engage in political debate and expose issues often ignored by more traditional information sources in their countries. Sometimes this entails great risks. In Egypt, for example, blogger Wael Abbas, one of the recipients of Google's travel scholarship, was harassed after exposing police corruption on YouTube. Oiwan Lam, another recipient, may face a fine and jail term for displaying nudity in art on her blog.
These bloggers received Google travel scholarships so that they could share their advocacy practices:
- Razan Ghazzawi - Blogger and activist (Syria/Lebanon)
- Oiwan Lam - Journalist, blogger and activist (Hong Kong)
- Isaac Mao - Founder of CNBlog.org (China)
- Wael Abbas - Blogger and activist (Egypt)
- Alaa Abdel Fatah - Blogger and activist (Egypt)
- Daudi Were - Blogger and founder of Kenya Unlimited blogring (Kenya)
- Adil Nurmakov - Blogger and researcher (Kazakhstan)
- Renata Avila - Blogger, attorney and activist (Guatemala)
- José Murilo - Blogger and technologist (Brazil)
- Ory Okolloh - Activist, blogger and co-founder of Mzalendo parliamentary watchdog site (Kenya)
- Awab Alvi - Blogger and activist, founder of Don't Block the Blog (Pakistan)
- Andrei Abozau - Activist and co-founder of LuNet (Belarus)
- Amine - Entrepreneur, activist and co-founder of DigiActive (Morocco)
Responsibility in reporting news and the prevalence of self-censorship by bloggers and citizen journalists was also discussed. Au Waipang from Singapore says:
"... 40 years' experience of a heavy-handed government that controls all mainstream media … has conditioned a society to avoid speaking up and participating in civic and political affairs. The resulting self-censorship is more insidious and intractable than overt censorship by other, less subtle, governments."
New media tools are also a harbinger of social change. Sameer Padania, from the human rights video group Witness, says:
"Bloggers have already won important, high-profile victories in the human rights sphere and have been crucial in recent humanitarian situations … the distinctive qualities of this new kind of mini-media ... complement perfectly the strengths of civil society and existing media to advance human rights."
As the founder of the Malagasy citizen media group FOKO showed, the internet makes communities visible to the world. Christina Quisbert, an indigenous Bolivian, shared with me:
"I started a blog … to write about the history and the different aspects of life of indigenous peoples in Bolivia… about the events that take place in El Alto, which is a city from Aymara indigenous origin … [creating the] possibility of sharing the knowledge of our ancestors."
Google is proud to be a supporter of Global Voices and their network of passionate citizen activists who inspire us all to continue advocating for freedom on the internet. It is one of the many activities Google supports in pursuit of these goals, including research into how to circumvent censorship regimes.