It is unquestionable that the Internet has changed the world. It has opened doors and global pathways that never existed before and has made the world a smaller place. With the Internet, things once deemed impossible are possible. The Arab Spring, the rise of instant millionaires and celebrities of previous “no names”, the power of a voice to change and move governments, companies and people. The small ideas such as the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” a social media phenomenon that started with one person and went viral raising an unprecedented millions of dollars for charity. The Internet has become so engrained and so much a part of our lives it is almost unimaginable to not have access to it.
Yet out of the estimated 2.7 billion users worldwide of the Internet, a shocking one-third of these users do not have free, uncensored access per Google’s Senior Policy Analyst Ben Blink. Millions of people are denied the basic human right of the freedom of speech on the Internet. They can’t comment, they can’t “like”, they can’t post pictures, they can’t write, they can’t blog, and they can’t freely search the Internet without censorship.
Last night I had the honor of listening to Ben Blink speak on “Google: Freedom and Power in the Digital Age” at Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis. Blink’s presentation focused on the power of the Internet and the challenges that exist in providing a free, uncensored internet for all.
In order to get a better understanding of censorship, Google launched the Transparency Report in 2010 to provide hard evidence of how laws and policies affect access to information online.
“Today, for the eighth time, we’re releasing new numbers showing requests from governments to remove content from our services. From January to June 2013, we received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content—a 68 percent increase over the second half of 2012.”
Source: Google “ “Government removal requests continue to rise“. December 2013
If you take a look at the countries who are requesting that content be removed from the Internet, you would be surprised to see such nations as Argentina, Japan and even the UK and US along with unsurprising ones like Turkey, China, Brazil and Russia.
Besides requests to remove information, there are also ongoing disruptions occurring. This chart below from Google’s Transparency Report identifies four key countries that have recently had a lot of disruption to Google’s products.
Internet censorship and disruption is real and a continued threat against the freedom of speech and a countries’ own economic success. Per Blink, it is estimated that by 2016 the Internet will contribute 4.2 trillion dollars to G20 countries. The Internet is the most powerful tool in global communication in our lifetime. Just think about it:
Every minute there are:
- 100,000 tweets
- 2.3 million google searches
- 100 hours of uploaded YouTube Videos
Yet sadly repressive governments view the power of the Internet and freedom of speech as a threat to their regime. Comments are banned, bloggers are jailed, journalists have to work undercover or be censored, and content is either deleted or altered. Per Blink, “The power of the Internet comes from its openness”. Censorship destroys this power.
I saw this firsthand when I landed in China and tried to open my Facebook page and blog on my first day in Beijing. It didn’t open. Out of curiosity I did a search on “Tiananmen Square” and there was nothing to be found. I couldn’t blog the entire two weeks I was there since my WordPress account was inaccessible. My freedom of speech was muted and denied.
I wondered what on earth I would do as a blogger if I was unable to use my voice freely, openly and connect my thoughts with others around the world. It is hard to imagine. Today, there are approximately 4.5 billion people offline. What Internet will they have in the future when they come online? One that is open and free or one that is censored? It is a powerful question to consider.
Google: Transparency Report. Access to Information – Data that sheds light on how laws and polices affect Internet users and the flow of information online.
Ben Blink is a Senior Policy Analyst at Google, and a founding member of its free expression and international relations team. Based in Washington, D.C, he focuses on issues related to free speech and human rights.