Youth Activists at Forefront of New Media, New Strategies

Among the most active users of the Internet and emergent communication technologies have been youth activists, who have harnessed new social media, video and real-time communication services to expose abuses and coordinate humanitarian efforts.

Heavy user traffic and the explosion of social networking sites have elicited sharp reactions from authoritarian governments, threatening Internet freedom and human rights at large.

A panel of youth activists at the Geneva Summit today shared strategies for circumventing censorship and promoting awareness and activism. “The costs of freedom are growing,” said Azeri blogger Ruslan Asadov. This means you have to identify your resources and gain new outlets, it takes a lot of fighting, young enthusiasm and passion.”

Among the youth activists at the panel was Diego Scharifker, Venezuelan law student and leader of a student opposition movement. Describing attacks against his university, intended to intimidate student activism and free speech, he asked, “Is this democracy? Does freedom of speech truly exist in my country? We are not afraid, we are stimulated by this bullying.”“There is a new generation, one that is committed to changing the way things will be done in my country,” he said. “The pressure of history remind us that it is now our time to make an impact.”

The panel discussed how the Internet can play a positive role in humanitarian and human rights activism. Social media networks permit the transmission of ideas and information, which hae become essential in organizing rallies, protests and meetings. Panelists emphasized the importance of the freedom of movement to supporting online activism.“It has to be people on the ground to make a change at the national level,” said Duy Hoang, the spokesperson of Viet Tan, an unsanctioned pro-democracy political party in Vietnam. He lobbied for American support for Internet freedom in Vietnam, having testified before U.S. Congress on how activists in Vietnamese youth were using the Internet to promote democracy and promulgate change. “The Internet has grown very fast in Vietnam though there is no independent media. The Internet has a huge potential for opening this closed political system.”

However, external pressure by governments and financial corporations could change how a government dispenses communications technology. “There’s a lot of evidence I see firsthand that congressional pressure in the US can play a positive role. Authoritarian governments need to do business in the world,” he said.

Panelists offered concrete strategies, including producing democracy promotion videos, translating materials and articles in multiple languages, fortifying social media networks by expanding membership, and enacting small scale protests on a daily basis.“This is an evolving cat and game mouse,” said Hoang. “Circumventing is a 21st century mode of non-violent civil disobedience.”F

For video of part I of this panel click here.

UN Watch