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#PDF14 Preview: An Interview with Andrea Chalupa, Founder of DigitalMaidan

BY Sonia Roubini | Monday, May 19 2014

Andrea Chalupa is a founder of DigitalMaidan, an online movement that made the Ukrainian protests the #1 trending topic on Twitter worldwide, She is also a journalist and the author of Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm. Andrea will be speaking at #PDF14 on a panel titled “The Ukraine Crisis and #EuroMaidan”, which will be held from 3:30-4:30 on Friday, June 6th.

1. How did you come to be interested in tech and its impact on society?

I grew up with stories of my grandfather surviving Stalin’s genocide famine in Ukraine which starved to death millions of Ukrainians. Back then, many Western reporters deliberately covered up the famine: They were either what Lenin called “Useful Idiots” and believed in the ideals of the Russian Revolution, so they wanted to see the Soviet Union succeed, that or the Kremlin lavished them with luxuries, women, other pleasures in exchange for being champions of Stalin. In March of 1933, a young independent Welsh journalist by the name of Gareth Jones, only 28 years old, escaped Moscow and witnessed the famine for himself, and wrote about it. But the powerful, world-famous journalists in Moscow, most notoriously Walter Duranty of the New York Times, banded together and covered-up Jones’ fearless reporting. Information back then was controlled by the few at the top. For many years, Stalin’s famine remained hidden from the world. To this day, most people aren’t aware of it. Corrupt journalists can’t get away with that sort of thing in the age of Twitter. So internet freedom is a very personal issue to me, and should be to all of us.

2. What's the most satisfying part of your work?

Creating discussions around urgent human rights crises in Ukraine and fact-checking the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.

3. If you've been to PDF in the past, what are your impressions?

I love PDF! I first met Katie Halper, now a very dear friend, and the founder of Laughing Liberally, at PDF. It’s the place for connecting with people obsessed with preserving internet freedom and using the internet creatively to spark important discussions.

4. What is your take on the net's role in the Euromaidan protests? Is there anything unique about the way social media was utilized in that protest context?

EuroMaidan began with a single Facebook post by Afghani-Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayem. He called everyone to Kyiv’s main square (Maidan). From there, social media continued to be extremely important and played a unique role in EuroMaidan, because there has never been a fiercer information war in recent years than over the crisis in Ukraine. The Kremlin spends $400 million on Russia Today alone! What’s worse is that many intelligent Westerners believe Russia Today, because of their rightful mistrust of mainstream media. But RT is mainstream media, in Russia. So Ukrainians really needed help. And so they worked together to be heard: Not only were Ukrainians living on the barricades in Maidan, they were also busy producing online videos, infographics, posting/sharing brutal images of violence all to lift the veil of Russian propaganda and inform Western leaders and media of what really was going on in Ukraine. It showed that even the largest propaganda war chest is no match for Internet freedom.

5. What are the key issues tech and politics/society to pay attention to at the moment?

The internet is an important human rights tool. We must fight for internet freedom. Net neutrality is a human rights issue. All progressive causes—from campaign finance reform to fighting climate change—should unite and build a strong coalition around this issue.