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With Vision of Internet Magna Carta, Web We Want Campaign Aims To Go Beyond Protest Mode

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, September 30 2014

Clarista_/flickr

On Saturday, Tim Berners-Lee, reiterated his call for an Internet Magna Carta to ensure the independence and openness of the World Wide Web that he created and to protect user privacy.

His remarks were part of the opening of the Web We Want Festival at the Southbank Centre in London, which is only the start of a year long international process to formulate concrete visions for the open web of the future. The campaign will go beyond protests and the usual advocacy groups.

"We have not been fully successful in achieving two things," Renata Avila said in an interview on Friday. Avila is the global manager of the Web We Want campaign for the World Wide Web Foundation, which was established by Berners-Lee. "One thing is to engage the common citizen, the producers and creators on a broader scale and the second thing we have failed to achieve is proposing a concrete set of asks for citizens indicating what is the Internet we want, which characteristics, which values, principles do we want to have," said Avila.

The hope with the festival weekend, the first in a series celebrating 25 years of the web, is to "get out of the protest mode and to get into the propose mode and to get out of the typical act of campaigning and to get into the festival approach," said Avila. "We are using the arts and culture platform.....[to] celebrate what we've achieved with the web and bring more people into the action."

She noted that the organizers crowdsourced the events' programs, which echoes the open web vision: ideas and speakers came from all over the world and talks were aimed at people will all levels of familiarity with Internet. Topics included how the Internet is affecting people's brains, the digital divide, the impact of digital platforms on children, the great firewall of China and the work of artists in a connected world. One interactive and symbolic feature allowed visitors to ask web developers questions as they programmed in a glass box.

Avila said that conveying the importance of an open web to a broader audience, starting with the visitors to Southbank Center events, is key to encouraging the popular demand of the open web as a right. "You cannot demand what you don't know," she said.

According to Avila, plans are already underway for other events in Lebanon, the Philippines, Morocco, Chile and Argentina, among at least 20 other countries. The hope is to involve 50 to 60 countries by end of 2015, with a special emphasis on the global south.

That is a region where the campaign believes there is "more of a possibility to influence policy and make a change," she said, citing the Brazilian Civic Rights Framework for the Internet and net neutrality laws in Chile. "Those are important efforts that we need to make global," she said, by exploring ways of combining local ideas with global goals.

The campaign aims to work with local partners who are aware of the policy needs in a local context, she said. "We're not starting those processes from scratch....but want to give assistance to processes that have already started, " she added, such as dialogues that have already begun in Nigeria and Italy about defining the "web we want."

Avila explained that the campaign hopes to emulate the environmental movement in "broadening the constituency" and encouraging small actions that can add up to larger change. Similar to encouraging recycling, she said she hoped event participants "take at least one positive action toward the open web" such as learning to code or learning about open web principles.

Avila also emphasized the need to overcome a "disconnect" with other social movements. "Human rights grassroots organizations in Latin America, in Africa, you don't see them engaged in the debates on open Internet even though it shapes and affects human rights tremendously," she said. "The things that they stand for and their missions will be permanently affected if they lose the resource that we gain [through the web]," she noted, whether it be unions, human rights activists or private sector innovators that are not Google." Very few will profit with a closed Internet -- that's the harm message to convey to people -- we need allies who can digest that message and make it sexy and easy to understand and engaging."

Alongside the Southbank Centre, other groups working on the campaign, under the Web Foundation's coordination, are Mozilla, Global Partners Digital, the Association for Progressive Communications and Article 19, a group in support of Freedom of Information.

Earlier this year, the campaign awarded 36 action mini-grants to efforts around the world to support web "birthday party" events that encouraged popular audiences to discuss the "web they want." One awardee, the Women Inspiration Development Center in Nigeria, plans to organize radio phone-ins to discuss the future of the web in two cities. The Mexican hacker space Rancho Electronico is organizing a Cripto-Rally. Hillhacks, a coalition of technology volunteers, is organizing cryptoparties with lightning talks on web topics in the Himalayas. The Karisma Foundation is raising awareness about a proposed law in Colombia requiring the adoption of a U.S. copyright enforcement framework. OWPSEE and Zenska Posla, two groups planning to tell the story of the Internet in Bosnia and Herzegovina, will build a user-generated history culminating in a storytelling workshop in Sarajevo.

That is quite a start to creating a Web We Want.