Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellowship @ APC — Month 2

Remember how I said I love traveling? That is still very much true. However, at the beginning of the second month of my fellowship I had to deal with jet lag for the first time in my life. A 13-hour jet lag might I add which was really hard to get over. I traveled from Manila to Mexico City to attend the LAC gigX (Latin America and Caribbean Gender and Internet Governance Exchange) and the LAC IGF (Internet Governance Forum).

During the LAC IGF, I was glad to learn my region has some really great players advocating for the Open Web. These players are civil society organizations like Fundación Karisma from Colombia and Derechos Digitales from Chile.

A recurring topic during the IGF was net neutrality and the risk Facebook’s internet.org poses to it. There are concerns about internet.org creating wall gardens in the region. There were comments like “Why is it called internet when it only allows access to a tiny part of the whole internet”. Or “the .org extension is misleading because in the end this isn’t a non for profit initiative as it increases Facebook’s revenue”. Let’s just say the people who work for Facebook and were in attendance got a lot of feedback to share with their big bosses.

Right after the IGF, I attended discussion group on cyber harassment. Multiple stories about attacks women and LGBT people receive for being themselves (and posting their thoughts or work online) were shared. Many attendees expressed their concerns that tech companies weren’t responsive enough when victims report abuse in their platforms. Among the attendees of this discussion group there were who work for Facebook, Twitter and Google (one person per company) who listened to all these stories and concerns. What they had to say was basically this: “The internet is still fairly young. We are still trying to figure out how to best deal with these issues. Yes, our response isn’t always fast enough but rest assured we are always paying close attention to our users’ needs”. I think they need to get it together and start acting faster. Whatever they are currently doing is clearly not enough. They need to change the way they are approaching these problems. In the meantime being extra careful online (and offline) doesn’t sound like a bad idea because the stories I heard were absolutely horrifying.

Even though during my days in Mexico I heard a lot of critics to big tech companies, I had a conversation that reinforced my believe that things aren’t just either black or white. I met a women who told me she didn’t agree with radical positions against Facebook. This was particularly interesting as this woman works for an internet rights civil society organization and she is likely aware of Facebook’s polemic projects and practices. She explained she has a little nephew battling with cancer. Luckily they live in one of the biggest cities of Colombia where health infrastructure is relatively good. She told me how Facebook had enabled her and her family to connect with other Colombian families with kids struggling with cancer and find support.

These families across all of Colombia support each other in multiples ways. For instance, when families living in smaller cities of Colombia have to take their kids to get treatment in a big city they often stay at the houses of local families found through this fan page. She explained because of this she couldn’t possibly say Facebook is completely bad, as it had brought some sort of relief during the hard times her family was facing. I think it is important to be able to distinguish gray colors when advocating for things (in this case the Open Web) because thinking in just black or white can make us close minded which, in my opinion, isn’t good.

After leaving Mexico City, I spent the rest of August putting the information I had gotten during my trip to Malaysia into planning the development of the new Feminist Principles of the Internet platform. I wrote a report with the specs and later started working on wireframe sketches. I love having the opportunity to design a web product from scratch. I will share more about this process on my post about month 3. Until then!