I wrote this weblog post as part of my ongoing work for the Focuss.Info Initiative and is therefore also published there
What is the Focuss.Info Initiative and what is its objective?
The Focuss.Info Initiative aims at improving the exchange and access to information and knowledge, a fundamental human right that strengthens democracy. In order to improve the exchange and access to information and knowledge in the domain of global development research and studies successfully, the Initiative assists individuals and institutes in the developed as well as developing countries in advancing an information infrastructure by inducing skills and abilities to create and share information and knowledge in a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural and cross-border network.
To keep it more simple: the workshops cover social networking approaches, strategies and tools in general and induce students, researchers and practitioners in the field of global development studies and research how they can best use the latest information sharing and collaboration tools specifically. There are many reasons why this is needed. One of the arguments is that these tools let us form social networks in which individuals act, but the network of individuals also provides resources such as social memory that individuals and groups can exploit. However, there is also another less-known argument which is, according to the Australian political scientist John Keane, a development-in-the-make.
He argues that there are experiments going on in the age of the Internet- and he believes that China is at the cutting-edge -where governments cleverly are developing tools for using the Internet, to control the Internet for undemocratic ends. For example, through the recruitment of - what he calls - Internet debaters, or 50 cents bloggers. If on the Internet a firestorm develops - a protest - against the authorities, the communist authorities, then one way of dealing with it is to recruit a million of two who respond and who swamp the protest with their own pro-government views. It is a very 21st century cutting edge development.
We are more and more moving to this development, because governments cannot censor people anymore. One reason is because they want to pretend that they are good leaders and when they arrest someone on the Internet, for example Han Han from Shanghai who only in 2009 had 330 million visitors, it will create a revolution. That’s why China - and perhaps other countries - are looking for other ways to influence the public opinion.
At the same time, the Internet is a crucial way for individuals to share information globally in an instant. This is a pressure that those regimes have been confronted with before. So these regimes are investing a lot of resources to come up with ways to tackle this problem. And these regimes are very capable in also using the latest technologies. For example, even though individuals or a protester can document a violation of human right with a cell phone, the same cell phone is also leaving a finger print, your whereabouts, your contacts, your social network, and that can be used against you by these regimes. That’s why I believe that indivuals should become better to use the latest information sharing and networking tools by making them:
- information literate (how can individuals evaluate information so that they can judge their decisions on qualitative information);
- computer literate (how to use device and tools which are connected to the Internet and which are connecting the world as a whole)
- network literate (a crucial competence of individuals is that they should occupy roles such as brokers and/or facilitators and therefore they should also have networking competences).