Alia Ahmed is an intern in CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program.
In an age of widespread online journalism, Internet users worldwide are exposed to stories, footage, and leaks that probably would have gone unpublished in the print age. In response, YouTube has opened up the floor to commentary on the current condition of online freedom of expression. They’re calling on all Internet users, bloggers, and activists to submit their views on what they consider the biggest barriers to free speech online. Video or text responses sent in will be used as part of an international conference on freedom of expression on the Internet, to be held in Budapest from September 20 to 22.
The conference will be hosted by YouTube, Google, and the Central European University, and will invite bloggers, grassroots political activists, and representatives from the world of academia, as well as government and non-governmental organizations, to share in the debate over fostering free expression in the Internet age. Responses can be submitted here, and will be accepted until September 7. The top-voted responses will also be showcased at the conference, as well as on YouTube’s sister Web site, CitizenTube.
So far, YouTube has already received more than 200 responses to the question, “What’s the biggest barrier to free expression on the Internet, and what would you do to overcome it?” according to YouTube’s official blog. A number of participants have cited government censorship as a key obstacle to Internet freedom, accusing in particular the governments of China, Iran, and Cuba of heavy censorship. Others believe the problem lies with privately owned Internet service providers, as opposed to decentralized, public networks headed by users who are free to voice their opinions.
Some respondents said they think it is important to curtail the amount of information that can be gathered about a particular individual, but also that online anonymity means that people are unable to share their views without fear of reprisal. One user said they feel that the biggest problem with online expression is a lack of access to it, saying that governments should make it a priority to provide all citizens with access to the Internet.