WASHINGTON, PA (March 2, 2021)—“Freedom on the Net – A Global Overview of Human Rights in the Digital Age” was the topic of a talk by Adrian Shahbaz, Director of Technology and Democracy at Freedom House, during Washington & Jefferson College’s fourth annual Symposium on Democracy, held Feb. 17, 2021.
Shahbaz presented findings from Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report, which chronicles the global rise in censorship, surveillance, and media manipulation. He also discussed recent trends regarding technology’s impact on democracy, including the power of tech companies in our information ecosystem.
“One of the takeaways from the rise of populism and demagoguery is that we need to be listening more to the experiences of everyday Americans and have more reporting of the stories of everyday Americans. How can we come to a shared truth and understanding?” Shahbaz said. “The [current] media ecosystem wants to show divisions in American society rather than showing consensus.”
When asked if he believed the rollback of net neutrality in 2019 contributed to current issues of censorship, Shahbaz first defined net neutrality, since its definition is key to understanding discussions surrounding it.
Net neutrality, Shahbaz said, is the idea that your internet service provider should treat all content equally and not prioritize certain traffic from certain providers over another. Ultimately, some argue that the internet should not be like purchasing cable packages where to attain certain channels, additional fees are required.
“If we want to preserve an internet that is free, open, and secure, then we will likely need a mix of all three. Future regulation should focus on enacting federal data privacy legislation. we should also be updating our election laws and ensuring robust competition among platforms and providers,” Shahbaz noted.
As for the future of the internet and net neutrality legislation, Shahbaz believes that the United States has the ability to set an example.
“Policy makers around the world are struggling to find viable solutions for the problems of online harassment, misinformation, and election interference. the best way to ensure that the internet works for democracy, both in the U.S. and around the world, is for the U.S. and democratic allies to articulate a vision for this positive internet that works for human rights,” Shahbaz finished.
A recap of 2021 Symposium events can be found on the Symposium on Democracy website.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.