How far does the power of the government go in the control of the Internet? Is it OK that you have to pay 35 euros to access a single scholarly article? How much can you do lying on your sofa with a couple of clicks and a smart code?
This is only a morsel of the questions that an intensely relevant The Internet’s own boy raises when telling a story of internet activist and open access protagonist Aaron Swartz. On Tuesday 24 March, SG Erasmus showed the documentary at the Erasmus Pavilion. The students present could definitely relate to the issues at hand, but what made the event special and the discussion points ever so more poignant was the presence of one of the Swartz’ friends, who shared his thoughts and memories after the screening. So are the students themselves willing to make this fight personal?
A double-edged sword
Floris Hondmann (20), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Comminication
“This information access issue is two-fold, as I see it. On the one hand, when it is to your personal right, you don’t mind everything being out in the open. But when the government tries to makes use of it and tracks your public profile on Facebook, you want them to take a step back. Personally, I am not really bothered by these surveillance strategies. What I think is more important is that there is free access to academic articles. I am lucky enough to have VPN as a university student, but there are so much more people who choose to learn outside the classroom. So I think they should have free access to knowledge too.”
Dennis Brouwer (22), Erasmus School of Economics
“I am very concerned about privacy issues. It is important to be able to spread information freely to share ideas and innovate. However, the facilities tracking your personal activity are largely hindering that. Take Google, for example. If you search for ‘evidence against climate change’ and then try to search neutrally ‘climate change evidence’, you will mostly get the pages with the evidence against climate change. So a sort of confirmation bias is created. But the point of Internet is that it is a media for new knowledge, and when it’s not – it is dangerous.”
Think big, start small
Xinran Yuan (22), Rotterdam School of Management
“I think that the right for the free use of Internet should be incorporated in the fundamental human rights. It is unacceptable to have a price tag on the information. So I believe that making information public is a fight for our generation. But we also have to mind the privacy issues. If people don’t want to be tracked, they should be able to exercise their right for privacy. While there is a whole debate about the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ at the EU level, the best thing we can do is to spread awareness. That’s why I think it is important that the university hosts events like this.” KS