Internet: One of the most important inventions since sliced bread! It allows users to easily access virtually limitless information on any topic, anywhere and anytime.
It was amazing to see my 6-year-old looking at the New Super Mario Bros. game on Amazon. When I asked, “How did you find it?” he replied, “I googled it.” Just like that! Google has already taken its place as a verb in our daily language, similar to “I Xeroxed the report,” or “I'll UPS it.” You get the idea.
With tools like MSN, Skype, Twitter and Facebook, the Internet has made our lives more enjoyable by allowing us to interact with others, whatever time zone we live in. Moreover, the Internet has also become a job hunting arena. According to a survey by I Love Rewards and Experience featured in USA Today, 28 percent of college students plan to use LinkedIn to find a job. More than 7 percent plan to use Facebook, for that matter. What this means is that students do not just wait to learn about job opportunities from recruiters visiting their campuses anymore; it indicates that students use digital tools to land their dream jobs. In USA Today, Laura Petrecca wrote, "If you are able to get a message out over Facebook and Twitter, a new job could be waiting for you."
On the other hand, when we talk about Internet freedom, I remember former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic speech on global Internet freedom in 2010. She declared that the Barack Obama administration would be a forceful advocate for this, saying: "We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them." I wonder what has been done to this effect.
Since March 2011, a new hope for democracy faced guns, tanks and tools of censorship across the Middle East. In Libya, the Muammar Gaddafi regime thrust its people into a digital dungeon in the first week of March, shutting off Internet access to prevent Libyans from organizing themselves and broadcasting Gaddafi's crimes for the world to see.
In Bahrain, the kingdom reacted against demonstrators by shutting down video sharing websites, blocking YouTube videos of street protests and taking down a large Facebook group that called for more anti-regime activities. The examples are plenty.
Ironically, they bought this censorship technology from the birthplace of the Internet, which is of course the US. Several American companies, including McAfee, Inc., Websense, Inc. and Palo Alto Networks have been reported to sell software that helps governments red flag websites or block access.
When we look at recent events in Turkey, we see a similar picture. Over the last couple of months, Turkish officials have condemned social media, particularly Twitter, as a key instrument of the Gezi Park protesters. Now the Turkish government is preparing new regulations that will make it easier to seize data from online companies and identify individual Internet users.
The Obama administration and US companies could have halted this in Turkey. Yet, according to Cynthia M. Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, "The US provided the Turkish government with a roadmap for conducting secret mass surveillance and conscripting the help of the private sector."
Freedom of speech shouldn't end at American borders. Blogging, Facebook and the free flow of information are all great things. But with all that censorship, they could become like a car without fuel. I can't imagine how frustrated my kids and their grandparents would be should our breakfast video chats on Sunday mornings be censored or blocked. Living 10,000 kilometers apart, the Internet is the most efficient way to communicate with our loved ones in Turkey, as it enables us to be as close as the click of a mouse.
I do remember one statement from Mrs. Clinton, and I could not agree with her more. She said, “We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”
Isn't it about time for the US to show us how?