Giorgio Ungania

New Media & Technology Specialist, TEDx Dubai

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How we can use social media on a world scale to launch a global campaign to recognize Internet access as a basic human right?

Internet access is become as vital as access to energy or natural resources. Especially when looking at underdeveloped areas of the world it becomes clear that access to the shared knowledge via web can do wonders for the growth of these areas.

  • Feb 28 2011: Internet access is reaching a similar level of importance as basic education, in fact if internet access was available to education providers of developing countries then there is few that could argue how much more children could learn.

    A World Bank study into the impact of levels of primary education stated that “In today’s world, simply getting children into schools in not enough; governments must also ensure that children complete the primary cycle and attain the basic knowledge and skills needed for personal well-being and national development”.

    Numerous factors from the World Bank study show that although enrolment is important, it does not constitute a guaranteed increase in economic output and overall relays the importance of the quality of education and investment in learning above the actual enrolment levels.

    In contrast to the Coleman Report “… schools matter much more in the setting of poor countries. A large part of the reason behind this appears to be the principle of diminishing returns — in the setting of poor countries providing more education resources has a larger impact than in a rich country where school resources are already at a relatively high level”. (Coleman, James S. Equality of Educational Opportunity (COLEMAN) Study (EEOS), 1966 )

    So... how to tie this into Social Media as a Social Change tool? A couple of ideas:

    - Create a standard message that is globally recognised!
    - Lobby through SM, global organisations (MS, Apple, BP etc) - select a few to target, with key messages to garner support and investment when they utilise developing countries to create their products / services
    - Lobby at a local level, for locals to use SM in order to raise, from the "roots up" a standard demand to all international organisations to respond to - Provide the messages, platforms on an enterprise scale
    - Lead by example - schools in developed countries, leading the campaign through SM for free access support to schools in developing countries
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    Feb 18 2011: Philip, I think Giorgio's point, however infrastructurally inconvenient to acknowledge at this moment, is nevertheless valid.

    As a related example, when the United States recognized that freedom from slavery was a basic human right (although at the time, only enforceable on Americans), the infrastructure to replace slavery was by no means in place. The civil war, and post-war depression in the South stemmed directly from this disparity of infrastructure and need. But that didn't (and doesn't) make it any more valid to enforce human enslavement -- and numerous international treaties explicitly lay this fact out.

    Your example of water is an interesting one. I would submit that access to water is, at least tacitly, recognized as a basic right -- this is the motivation behind the exciting debates on corporate control of water supplies, and for great films like Irena Salina's "Flow" about water rights around the world. Water rights haven't been explicitly codified in constitutions as a basic right, but I think that these changes will come as the heralds of the predicted water wars over the next 20 years. The civil war wasn't the first or last conflict to arise out of rights/infrastructure disparities.

    As for internet access, the upside is that unlike water or slavery, it's much easier to distribute and redesign for maximum impact with minimum cost. For example, a minimum level of connection -- say low-bandwidth SMS interface with text-based databases -- might be established globally. This low-bandwidth connection, like free speech, or accommodation for childhood, or any of the other rights outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wouldn't give the best possible access to the fullness of the internet. But it would give all the crucial benefits.

    If you don't think you can get a lot of mileage out of low-fi networking, there are a couple million Egyptians and Tunisians who would disagree...
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    Feb 17 2011: Thanks Sebastian. I truly believe if education is a human right, internet access can't be left behind.
    (It should be included inside the 26th article: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml)

    (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

    (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

    (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

    Let's try to write the 4th paragraph down?
    I think it should be related to "free access to autodidact tools" such as libraries, museums and internet.
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    Feb 16 2011: Very interesting issue Giorio, I would to build on the comment made by Carlos to to turn attention to another dimension: securing internet access to "underdeveloped" areas is important not only for promoting growth of these areas but more important to empower those people to participate in the development of the whole country/world. Methods like collaborative work and crowdsourcing are now proven in many cases around the world to be effective in leveraging internet to enable the public to participate in making decisions about the way they want to live, from politics to public service (need to mention revolutions?!). So, by providing internet access in such areas, we are not only helping in making the lives of those people better off but also we are helping them to speak out and "spread their ideas" about how to make the whole country/world better off.
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    Feb 16 2011: I totally agree with you Giorgio. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few words from the TEDxRio event, which was held yesterday.

    The co-founder of busk.com, Helder Araújo (TEDxAmazonia, TEDxSP) said that the 75 percent of the knowledge we learn, we get it by informal means but we still give more importance to the other 25 percent.
    And talking about the access to information, "We live in a 'Knowledgecism Age', a kind of racism of knowledge."

    Then, a concluding remark by Jailson de Souza e Silva [http://www.ashoka.org/node/3946] from Observatório de Favelas (Slum Observatory): "I'm that arrogant that I think I can help change the world"
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    Feb 16 2011: * I don't know how, but if you launch an action, and it takes me less than 1 hour to participate, I'm in.

    * To let it get recognized, I suggest you try and reach the politicians and identify those who wrote and curate the "universal declaration of human rights"
    => so it's the UN http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

    Lobby lobby lobby to put it on the agenda.
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    Feb 15 2011: Maybe 'basic human right' is a loaded word. I think one way we can collaborate is by spreading ideas on these field. For instance, the case of Finland: On July 1, 2010, Finland became the first country in the world to make access to broadband Internet a legal right as 'universal service'.

    According to Ms Suvi Lindén, Finland's Minister of Communications, high speed access to everybody will improve people's quality of life especially in the less populated areas, will boost business, enable electronic communications and encourage online banking.

    Of course in many of our countries a lot of work is needed to be done in social inclusion first, and that's why another example I'd like to share with all of you is one interesting TEDxTalk from TEDxBuenosAires about the One Laptop Per Child experience in Uruguay:

    Miguel Brechner Frey: A revolutionary approach to the social inclusion - OLPC in Uruguay
    http://tedxbuenosaires.org/?page_id=2096

    OLPC related TEDTalks:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_negroponte_in_1984_makes_5_predictions.html
    http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_negroponte_on_one_laptop_per_child.html
    http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_negroponte_on_one_laptop_per_child_two_years_on.html
  • Jul 4 2011: To be completely honest, Internet access is not a basic human necessisty. The internet is an entity of computerized proportions which connects the word not on a personal scale but on a purely objective scale. Litterally anyone can post a piece of information on it. Your suggestion of putting internet access into underdeleloped countries may result in catastrophe due to the lack of education in said countries. The internet may become a new tool of propaganda as well as political influence and may also act as a catalyst for extremeism in these countries. The internet requires a safe level of educational "back up" to be able to function at its maximum potential.
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    Feb 18 2011: On a purely practical level, what are the implications of saying that internet access should be a "basic human right"?

    In the United States, I have to pay for water, yet access to water is a fundamental human need as well as a basic human right. But I cannot claim that I am being denied a basic human right if the water company turns off my service. Government and Corporate largesse make it possible for me to get a drink of water in a public or private facility. But I cannot demand access to it when the facility is closed.

    If the internet were a basic human right;
    - who would pay for its infrastructure?
    - who would pay for access to it?
    - how would people who chose not to or are unable to pay for it be accommodated?
    - would a family or community be allowed to filter out elements of it they actively do not want?
    - ...
    • Jun 29 2011: Good ideas. I like the basic concept you have going here. The internet is not a right and to a lot of the world, not even a privilege. As the use of internet continues to grow is it easy to see how it can mistakenly be looked at as something that should always be so easily accessed and readily available. This is a concept that should be discussed as a social norm, later in the production of humanity. It is simply too young of an idea to even be considered as a basic human right at the time, because it has only been around for only a few years. Basic human rights such as abolishing slavery, something so critical, has taken thousands and thousands of years to cease, why then should something like the internet be able to cut in the time line and be called so quick to be judged as a basic human right.
  • Feb 17 2011: I really like your values, Giorgio, and share them in many ways. But I think I'll add a contrarian viewpoint. All of us in this discussion agree, I think, that access to the Internet can have a powerful transformative effect on societies. Yet the news this month (independent.co.uk) about the 100 never-contacted tribes worldwide was a good reminder that the Internet and global connectivity may not necessarily be desirable for all cultures, values, and ways of life. Do all these tribes want outside contact? We don't know. The Amish in North America an example of a culture that rejects the Internet, among other technologies. For those cultures that want to be involved on the global stage or in the global economy, the Internet is essential. I wonder if we should consider, however, that not all cultures may share that value or find that it sends their societies in desirable directions. And that they may have things to teach the rest of us.
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    Feb 16 2011: Very interesting TEDxTalk Sebeastian. As Kat pointed out the issue is much more relevant in emerging areas of the world. As pointed out by Sugata Mitra in his TEDGlobal 2010 Talk the potentials of unconditioned and unsupervised access to the grid can do miracles. We are all aware of the basic struggles of Academia not being able to keep up with the speed of the global innovations in all fields of mankind. The article 21 of the Chart of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country" I strongly believe that access to the internet should considered a Public Service in each and every country.
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    Feb 15 2011: Internet access is not and should not be a basic human right. Access to the benefits of Internet access should.

    My argument is not purely word play here. What people need is not the Internet, but freedom of expression, access to information, access to education, health care, freedom to communicate, organize and engage, freedom to choose their own paths and grow, among other basic, more profound and even more simple needs.

    While the Internet can certainly be a very handy tool for overcoming challenges and satisfying the needs listed above, it does not satisfy them by itself and you could surf the web for a hundred years and satisfy not one of them. Also, what we call the Internet is a set of technologies, which are rapidly changing. It is the values provided by those technologies we should guarantee and provide access to, not the technologies themselves.

    Mobile communications are changing the landscape fast and some interesting experiments in data communication and human interaction at a global scale have already been happening outside the real of the Internet (Amazon's Kindle network, etc.)

    Internet access should not be a basic human right just as free mobility does not turn owning a vehicle into a basic human right. There might be dozens of alternatives to Internet access for satisfying those needs just as buses, taxies, subways and trains are alternatives to owning a car.
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    Feb 15 2011: Excellent question, Giorgio. Especially now where the truth is indeed setting peoples free and the restrictive regimes suppressing those truths are using access to internet as a punishment and front line in there campaigns of terrorizing their own people. In America we have wide tracks of less densely populated areas which still do not have internet access. How much more hapiness would there be on Earth if all had free, unfettered access to Earth's communication superhighways?