As the G8 summit concluded last Friday in France, world leaders released a statement titled “Renewed Commitment for Freedom and Democracy.” Fortunately, the statement included a section about the Internet, seemingly born from the Arab Spring, and acknowledging the Internet as a critical tool for a vibrant democracy. The final statement was also likely impacted by discussions which took place at the eG8 forum which took place prior to the G-8 summit itself. Unfortunately, the Internet statement had nothing to say about fair use or education.
Although token credit was given to the Internet as a key component for innovation and global economies, the G8 statement failed to outline any concrete steps that need to take place in order to support its use in these ways. To be fair, I’m not sure that this was the purpose of the document, which seems written merely as a record of principles as agreed upon by the G-8 leaders, but it is still troubling to me that the importance of teaching people how to be responsible citizens and critical thinkers in a digital world does not make the final cut as one of the top issues regarding the future of the Internet. During the eG8 forum, technology leaders like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Eric Schmidt of Google warned that increased Internet regulation may stifle many of the same Internet freedoms and resources that were so crucial to the Arab Spring.
This is true, but the ability of the Internet to continue as a tool for democracy is also stifled if the ability to use it effectively is concentrated in the hands of the relatively few, or if people simply don’t learn to think critically and ask questions about the media content which Internet access makes available to them. Overlegislation could spell the death of an open Internet, but undereducation is just as dangerous. And, currently, most of us are undereducated. While measuring the presence of basic media literacy in public schools is a sticky process–we don’t yet have a universally accepted assessment model, there is a dearth of media literacy training for educators–I am confident in the claim that we have a long way to go before every student is learning how to live and work in digital landscape. The LAMP is working to fill this cavernous gap, and we certainly have our work cut out for us.
Moreover, while the G8 statement has plenty to say about intellectual property and transparency, it is silent on the issue of fair use, which is largely responsible for the Internet’s function as a hub for innovation and economic growth. In an article for Wired’s Threat Level blog, David Kravets discussed a study which found that for the year 2007 alone, fair use economy accounted for $4.7 trillion in revenue to the United States. Yet fair use is also one of the least understood components of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act: in a March 2010 study by the Center for Social Media, nearly half of the participating communications scholars expressed a lack of confidence in their understanding of fair use and copyright law. If communications scholars find it difficult, imagine what it might be like for teachers in general to know when they’re crossing the line in using books, articles, movies and other media in class. Follow this with the fact that it is impossible to teach media literacy without using media, and you can see how the need for increased awareness of fair use rights walks hand-in-hand with media literacy (*cough* LAMPlatoon *cough*).
Acknowledging the importance of Internet transparency and openness without taking a stand for the tools which enable transparency and openness is a rather hollow endorsement. I know there are people who would call me naive for expecting more from a statement of principles by global leaders, but I do, and I believe that the ‘more’ of which I speak is possible.
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