Big Ideas from TED 2011: Keeping the Internet Safe for Activists

A great battle for the power of the internet is being waged by autocrats and democractic movements. One company is trying to sway the balance.

The big idea behind the Pegasus Press, founded by TED Fellow Adrian Hong, is to keep the internet safe for political dissidents and citizen journalists.

There is a sense that, around the world, the massive connective capacity of the internet is putting more power in the hands of political activists, protesters, and citizen journalists than ever before. For champions of technology's power to enable democratic revolutions, one needs look no further than the recent revolution in Egypt, which emanated from a Facebook page dedicated to a tortured and murdered Egyptian dissident to see the evidence. Indeed, many Egyptians—including the family that just named their first child "Facebook"—would attest to technology's power to enable change.

Yet it is not just citizens who can take advantage of the internet; authoritarian regimes can employ it as well. There are many critics like Evgeny Morozov who point out that politics is ultimately about power, and just as social media can be used to enable democracy, it can also be be used to track dissidents, distribute propaganda, or censor undesirable content. If the Egyptian revolution showed the power of social media to launch a movement, it also showed, when the Egyptian government shut down the internet and phones entirely, that what mattered ultimately was not the means of communication but the passion and persistence of the protestors.

But regardless of whether you think social media is the activist's greatest tool or the autocrat's greatest opportunity, what's for sure is that power is not relinquished lightly, and governments will find new ways to use digital media to their advantage. Pressuring companies to give them access to private user data is just the beginning.

The Pegasus Press is meant to create a system of sharing vital citizen journalism and activist material without the possibility that it might be compromised. By creating a safe third party for uploading media, Pegasus can protect the identities of the uploaders, while still ensuring the material gets distributed across the world.

The site was founded by Adrian Hong, a thinker and activist who has been working for freedom and justice for years in places like North Korea. The point of the site is not to become a hot new web property, but to ensure that in the long fight for justice, the arc of power bends towards those who seek opportunity and freedom.

The "Big Idea" is a series of posts about the people and passions that make up the community at TED2011 Long Beach.

via David Leavitt / Twitter

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