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PDF14 Theme: Save the Internet | The Internet Saves

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, March 25 2014

It's time to announce our theme for Personal Democracy Forum 2014. Although last year, it was "Think Bigger," and in 2012, it was "The Internet's New Political Power," the Snowden revelations and recent events around the world have made it hard for us to be so aspirational. To be honest, it feels like we are living in both the best of times and the worst of times. So this year's theme may at first glance appear to be a contradiction: "Save the Internet | The Internet Saves."

To many observers, 2014 feels like the year when we could lose the battle for the open Internet. On top of longstanding threats to net neutrality and the continuing challenge of the digital divide, we now have confirmation of something many have long feared: that the Internet might also be a tool for mass surveillance coupled with political and social control on a global scale. Paradoxically, the same open platforms that are enabling so much useful communication and collaboration have also made this kind of state surveillance possible. And so at PDF 2014 we will devote about half of the conference plenary sessions to understanding the ramifications of ubiquitous data collection--whether conducted by governments, corporations, platforms or political campaigns--and how we can best defend the values of a free digital society in the face of this new reality. We all need to understand these issues in order to "Save the Internet."

At the same time, we still believe the Internet itself continues to enable a global wave of positive change. So the other half of the main hall sessions will focus on how the Internet is helping create opportunities for real social and civic innovation. People and constituencies who previously had to struggle to be heard now are changing the very meaning of what it is normal and mainstream thanks to the Internet's galvanic impact on culture and society, locally and globally. Our civic life, from cities to national governments, is being steadily transformed by a wave of creative innovation that is tackling hard problems and making a difference in people's lives. Political advocacy--the bread and butter of any democracy--is getting smarter and engaging more people thanks to the continued expansion of web-enabled participation. "The Internet Saves"--it saves lives and saves money, and maybe if we protect it, it can help save democracy too.

Whether you want to be part of the community fighting to "Save the Internet" or be part of the community who believe "The Internet Saves", the people, the organizations, the issues, the questions, and the potential solutions will all be gathered on June 5 and 6 in New York. Register now and see you there!

P.S. We're going to start rolling out in-depth profiles of speakers and descriptions of break-out sessions, as well as how to apply for scholarships. So watch this space...and if you have suggestions for speakers or breakouts, send them to info-at-personaldemocracy-dot-com with "PDF 2014" in the subject line.