It’s a busy day here at WITNESS! Our executive director Yvette Alberdingk Thijm and actress and activist Maggie Gyllenhaal were at the Clinton Global Initiative- announcing our commitment to campaign to end violence against women in conflict zones. You can read more about the campaign in Yvette’s recent blog post.

Today (for a few more hours in my time zone anyway) is also World Peace Day which is described on its website as “not only about creating peace between nations, it’s about non-violence in our homes, communities and schools.” It’s a perfect occasion then to reflect on a tool used by so many of us in our homes, communities, schools, and businesses and governments for that matter: the Internet. Earlier in the day, my colleague Mari Moneymaker and I attended a presentation and reception for the Internet For Peace campaign.  Launched by Wired Italy and supported many partner organizations, including WITNESS (our board member and CEO of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, was one among an amazing roster of “ambassadors”), the goal of the campaign was to nominate the Internet for a Nobel Peace Prize and on that note, it succeeded. Stay tuned on October 8th when the winner of this year’s Peace Prize will be announced…

But why nominate the Internet for what is arguably one of the most prestigious prizes on earth? I thought some persuasive answers were provided by a couple of notable guests at the event today:

  • Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi began her remarks by saying she wanted to testify as a witness to the political turmoil in Iran. She said “Had this (the post-election protests of June 2009) been 15 years ago, people would have been killed and no one would have known, but today a network of opposition could form” due to the ability of protesters to take images and video of what was happening on the streets of Tehran and share that information via the Internet. She continued, “Those writing history will be informed by the activity that occurred on the Internet” not just by the official record of what government’s put forth as an official narrative.
  • Nicholas Negroponte, the founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child shared that “peace comes from understanding. And understanding is created through education and through multiple points of view…. and you need a window to those points of view. The end of isolation is key because isolation means you’re only getting one point of view.” The Internet, in Negroponte’s view, is that window.

And a Google representative said simply that “Stories are the connections online, they are capable of touching millions.” The Googler also acknowledged that the Internet did not achieve the utopian idea of one of its founders of being ‘an unstoppable force for freedom.’ Many governments regularly impede that free flowing energy of the Internet whether through explicit blocking of access to certain sites or through their support of deals by telecom companies that would restrict the idea of net neutrality.

In fact, Google launched a new tool today, perhaps in part a response to the negative attention that they have received for turning over information to governments about activists, but more likely to coincide with its Internet at Liberty conference going on now in Budapest. The tool called Transparency Report has two functions, one is a historic traffic report that can show by country or region of “outages”, thereby creating a record of where access to the Internet or specific websites has been cut off. The second function actually uses Google Maps to show where requests are originating from governments for specific content to be removed or for information about users.

The Orwellian concept of Big Brother is often invoked about governments’ ability to snoop into citizens’ lives- the Internet in many ways makes this work easier. But our founder Peter Gabriel often speaks of new technology and the Internet as spawning millions of “little brothers and sisters” – armed with cameras, whether hand-held or in our mobile devices, documenting our stories, sharing these stories and collectively speaking truth to power in an ever more effective chorus. So in this optimistic light, I cast a vote for the Internet as a peace-building tool.

Please note all quotes are shared based on my notes from the event, without the aid of a tape recorder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *