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My Internet Health Story

In November, I submitted an essay to the Mozilla Festival. What are my plans for fighting with censorship?
Vladimír Záhradník
December 31st, 2019 · 3 min read

At the end of November 2019, a tweet from Mozilla Festival got into my attention. They asked people to write a 750-word essay on one of three topics.

I found the tweet only a few hours before the deadline; however, I found the subject intriguing enough to write one of my stories, My Internet Health Story. In case my contribution won’t be selected into their book (likely), I decided to place my thoughts also here. Because, why not?

How do you identify with the internet health movement? Why is it important to you? What will you do in the next ten years to participate in the movement?

My story

I remember the day when we got an internet connection; I was eight years old. We used a dial-up link through a phone line. The sound of the dialing tone is legendary to this day.

My brothers and I couldn’t stay connected all day long, as is common today; phone companies billed us as for the regular phone call. We appreciated what we have; it wasn’t granted. I remember how I wanted to download a 30 MB file. It took me an hour and a half. Just recently, we remembered playing Warcraft 3 online through dial-up. Could you imagine the lag? Fun times!

On one side, the Internet was slow; on the other hand, it was open and free. Because it was not that wide-spread, governments didn’t regulate it much. Politicians didn’t grasp the power of it yet; internet companies were at their infancy, and the internet Ad market didn’t exist. I’m forever grateful for living in the era.

As years went by and the Internet got mature and wide-spread, so did I notice how it started changing. While our parents still watched TV, my generation spent time on the Net. Internet companies grew more prominent and gained influence each day. Suddenly, politicians became aware of the power of the Internet — an open space where anybody can write anything, and people will listen.

Through the years, I looked at the changes as the boiling frog. Changes came slowly, peacefully. Nobody noticed how things got worse. Sometimes I heard about politicians in the US who tried to challenge net neutrality; sometimes, I heard about new restrictions applied by the Australian government. However, one day, changes came to Europe.

EU Flag
Image by Chickenonline from Pixabay

When I heard about the new EU copyright directive, including articles 11 and 13, I was stunned. Until then, the regulations were just an inconvenience, as the GDPR banner on all EU websites. However, the proposed regulation attacks on core ideas of the Internet — creativity, and freedom to express yourself. According to the directive, all published content is subject to automated checks performed by AI algorithms. They call it “upload filters.”

I consider the upload filters, as introduced by the directive, as a stepping stone for bigger things to come. Efforts to further restrict and censor internet users will grow. As somebody who wishes to have his own company, I realize how hard it is for a small company to implement automated content valuation based on machine learning. Small companies don’t have a budget to do such a complicated task. As a consequence, there’s a real chance that only a handful of companies will have power over the Internet in the future.

I wrote to my MEPs. They ruled in favor of the directive, which ultimately passed. However, their decision also started my journey. I began talking about the issues publicly. Maybe my efforts alert others who are blind to this situation.

Article 13
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

I realized the importance of freedom of speech. I believe that everyone should have the right to express himself, as long as the words don’t cause physical hurt to other people.

Who are we to decide which thoughts are acceptable and which are not?

What are my plans for the next ten years? I will write about issues the Internet is facing every day; I plan to talk about them, write blog posts, perhaps publish some videos.

I also realize how centralized the Internet is today. People read less; instead, they watch videos distributed by content delivery networks owned by a few companies; the majority of web browsers use the same rendering engine. Dominant social networks like Facebook and Twitter apply their own rules to their users.

Internet monitors
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We need to break that trend and introduce alternatives. A counterbalance to the direction we’re heading. As a developer, I plan to contribute to apps and platforms, which provide the same or better services to the current ones and which work in a decentralized fashion. Perhaps I come with my solutions too.

Also, I will spread the word about being less dependent on all services, which we take for granted; I will suggest alternatives to use instead. All my effort is worth it. Remember, you don’t own the internet services you use every day. One day, your service could block your access to it because somebody decided so. Be prepared for it!

If we spread the thoughts, other people will join in and help us. The Internet is still in its infancy, and we still have a chance to shape it.

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