Asia Youth Forum curriculum director examines digital freedoms

The 2013 IDEA Asia Youth Forum, held from 8 to 21 April in Kyrgyzstan, is focused on the theme of digital freedoms. discussed the importance of digital freedom and the threats facing the Internet with the curriculum director of the Forum Logan Balavijendran. What are digital freedoms?

Logan: There are two groups of people and two understandings of the term. The first group includes those whose life is largely associated with electronic and digital technology. They have free access to the Internet and digital technology and they spend a lot of time online. If they do not check their Facebook for a while, they start to get nervous. In this case, freedom implies digital dependency.

Another group includes people living in areas where digital technologies have not received wide acceptance because of limited access. They live in countries with a low level of internet penetration. This group includes, for example, Forum participants from Myanmar. The Internet has only been recently in this country and they do not have daily access to the World Wide Web. However, when they do access, they can receive information from alternative sources to the official ones. They can even create their own news. Much has been said about the need to regulate and control the digital space.

Logan: First of all, it is necessary to introduce a mandatory educational program for all Internet users. Most young people do not just spend a lot of time online to get a variety of information, but they also place their own data onto the network, including their personal data. Parents usually forbid children from speaking to strangers, or to give information about themselves. But when they place our information on Twitter or Facebook, children expose themselves their worldwide public, often without realizing it because of their young age. And this information is stored on the Internet for decades. Therefore, everyone should be clear on how certain actions in cyberspace can affect their’s and other people's lives.

Teachers in schools teach us how to cross the road, not to talk to strangers and other similar things. It's time to introduce similar lessons in schools on digital security and awareness.

As far as the regulation of the internet and digital restrictions of freedom are concerned, first, each user is responsible for what he or she publishes online and what information he or she consumes.

Second, ISPs and content providers must also regulate the network. For example, Facebook, Twitter or Google should bear some responsibility for how you use the information they provide. This requires certain regulatory standards.

Finally, the state can have the highest level of control over the Internet and digital freedom. So should the State to regulate the Internet and digital freedom? What could its function be?

Logan:  I'm more inclined to think that it should not. Authorities and people will do anything to gain an advantage over their opponents. The main task of the Internet is to provide an opportunity to freely share information and express opinions. If we give the authorities this power, they can impose restrictions under the guise of protecting other people.

However, authorities need to educate people, to give them the right to self-regulate the Internet and their digital freedom. The state must intervene in this area only in the case of rights violation among users and the trampling on freedoms of others. What are the main threats facing digital freedoms today?

Logan: A significant threat is government regulation. More and more countries strengthen their regulation of the Internet and digital freedoms, trying to penalise people for their speech. Moreover, this type of control is often replaced by the restriction of freedom of speech: the pressure on the opposition, the introduction of censorship in the media.

Another threat is the growing corporatization of the Internet. Large companies are more and more in control of the World Wide Web. People think that the internet is free to use, but in fact 90% of our activity on the network is connected with companies and corporations. People use their software and applications, which enables them to gather more information. In turn, these companies use this knowledge to form a model of user behaviour.

I am concerned about this alarming trend; moreover, many people are not aware of this threat. Gradually, the Internet will have more and more personal information. Companies and authorities will have access to this information and can use them to control the people. Why was theme of digital freedoms selected for the Asian Youth?

Logan: This theme is accessible for everyone, as each participant has, in some way, interacted with the Internet. We want to emphasise how important the problems associated with it are.

Our participants talk about the benefits and dangers of the Internet  to understand how virtual reality affects their lives. For example, companies are using online information about the person during their hiring processes. If at 15 years of age you posted some dubious information online, in 5-10 years this information, caught by the eye of the prospective employer, could mean they won’t choose you. It is important to understand these nuances in order not to harm yourself.

On the other hand, people use the internet for work, to share thoughts, ideas and plans with others. Perhaps we will find a way to do it more effectively and help improve society. What, in your opinion, can we expect of the Internet and digital technology in the near future?

Logan: The best potential for Internet development is in the countries with limited access to it, which are the developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Access to the Internet gives people the opportunities that states are often unable to provide: online education, access to information, culture, entertainment and more. Thus the Internet, to a degree, can compensate for the lack of schools, universities, libraries, and other public educational institutions.


About the Asia Youth Forum

The Asia Youth Forum, one of many regional versions of the IDEA Global Youth Forum, is a two-week experience that combines the Karl Popper Debate Championship, educational tracks (including our Mixed Teams Track which brings students from different countries and different levels of experience together in a peer-to-peer learning experience) and tournaments that allow the speakers to put their newly-acquired skills into practice.

2013 IDEA Asia Youth Forum media partner:  

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