On why Internet freedom is important

When my father was 17, he left our hometown in the coast of Hagonoy, Bulacan to fight as a guerrilla against the Japanese army. During WWII, the Japanese army chose the brightest male students in villages to groom as their assets and successors. My father was among those chosen, but he managed to escape and join the guerrilla movement in the plains of Central Luzon.

My father died in December 2003 at the age of 75, but not once did he tell us about his days as a guerrilla fighter. I deeply regret not having the courage to ask him about the Japanese war. Had the Internet existed back then, that conversation would have definitely been easier.

Technology has made conflict of all kinds visible, tangible and understandable from afar, through powerful images captured on mobile phones and sent out via social media. We don’t have to go to Ukraine and Venezuela, for example, to understand what its people are up against. The extensive and interactive coverage of the international media and IT-savvy citizens has made it possible for us to watch history in the making. That kind of transparency and accessibility will make it possible for succeeding generations to ask the right questions from their forbears, using interactive tools to remedy the amnesia that comes with age.

This week, our country commemorates the peaceful EDSA Revolution, which led to the exile of the Marcos family and political ascension of an unlikely woman president, an unassuming widow named Corazon C. Aquino. Social media will be busy with commemorative photos, memes, and commentaries in a technical interface of then with now.

If the Internet and its social media tools existed during those days at EDSA, would it have altered the course of history? Yes, in a variety of ways. It could have accelerated the historic outcome by months, if not years, as an effective platform for social mobilization and public dissent. Or, it may have also led to violence had curious Facebook users living inside or beside these camps ruined the military rebels’ plan for a takeover.

In today’s world, an autocratic regime stands out like a black swan in a huge global pond, thanks to social media. The debate on whether the Internet should be regulated and how shall never end because nearly every political saga in the world has a social media component to it. In Manila, this debate recently became more up close and personal when the Supreme Court ruled as valid a provision in the recently enacted Cyber Crime Law that deals with online libel. Netizens pointed out the chilling effect that this online libel provision would have on citizen journalism and freedom of expression.

People everywhere have become zealous and vigilant over their rights to Internet access. Technology has insanely transformed our lives. My late father’s generation grew up with tablets to swallow, and not to click and swipe. Nowadays, humans, like birds, tweet. Can you imagine owning a phone that is truly just that, and nothing more?

The Internet is not the enemy of the State. Corruption, social injustice, crime, greed and intolerance are, and these are the malevolent elements that wilt in the sunlight of a vibrant online community. The lesser people who see that, the more dangerous the world can be.

Arab News Link: http://www.arabnews.com/news/530836

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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