Context Book Report: Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom

I first approached the book Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom by Rebecca MacKinnon,  as a librarian who teaches an information competency course to community college students. I’ve always discussed our First Amendment rights as U.S. citizens to my students and this looked like a title that would help broaden my set of free speech examples. That was the idea when I chose this book. Once I completed Module 4: Participatory Service, however, I had to return to the book with a different mission: how could I use what I learned from the book and make it into a participatory model assignment for my students?


graphic showing interconnectivity between student as a creator, working with peers, being academically challenged in a spoke.
Graphic from educatorinnovator.org CC BY-SA 4.0

I envisioned students creating, curating and collaborating with each other on projects—adding their voice to the discussion instead of being passive absorbers of information.  What’s so new about that, you say? Read on!

In the chapter, “Building a Netizen-Centric Internet”, MacKinnon addresses how “netizens” can assist in making sure that the Internet evolves in a citizen-centric manner. “Netizens” are people who contribute to the digital commons and who act as its stewards, architects, and defenders—engaging in a form of citizenship of the Internet (MacKinnon, 2012, p. 26). The author describes a global movement that both defends and expands Internet freedom which is driven by groups often working to address specific local and regional issues. The movement isn’t powerful enough to keep abuses by governments or corporations at bay, but McKinnon describes the Arab Spring as one example that motivated more people to become actively engaged in supporting freedom of the Internet. She cautions this global movement should not become a UN type organization monitoring cross border digital power nor an Anonymous style digital activist group. A more realistic approach, she says, would be to strengthen already established netizen-driven institutions while at the same time develop more effective ways to keep in check all forms of digital power—whether it is exercised by governments or corporations (MacKinnon, 2012, p. 223).

 

One such example of a netizen-driven group is Global Voices, of which MacKinnon is a co-founder. Made up of mostly volunteer netizen journalists reporting on local issues from 167 countries, Global Voices’ manifesto in part states, “Thanks to new tools, speech need no longer be controlled by those who own the means of publishing and distribution, or by governments that would restrict thought and communication. Now, anyone can wield the power of the press. Everyone can tell their stories to the world” (“Global Voices Manifesto,” 2016).

How can I bring my students into this Internet freedom movement? I may create an assignment around choosing a local social justice issue and have them investigate it, blog about it or use a number of other digital tools to engage in digital activism similar to the information hub Nawaat.org which covered the Arab Spring of 2011(MacKinnon 22). By following the model of participatory media and utilizing peer to peer teaching, students can become empowered from contributing meaningful content within the context of real world issues, according to Howard Jenkins in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture. The opportunity to engage students in new media literacies taught via the participatory model is something I’ve wanted to experiment with but I never had a name for it until now.

Last year, I came across an Educause article titled, Libraries as Enablers of Pedagogical and Curricular Change that discussed opportunities where academic libraries can initiate and support curricular change by working with faculty on creating assignments that can be non-textual.  At North Carolina State University, librarians assisted in the creation of a multimodal assignment in the first year writing program – incorporating formats or modes beyond text to convey an argument or an idea. Author J. Lippincott (2014) stated that the NCSU Library provided not only infrastructure for students to create these projects, but also the staff expertise. Librarians consulted with instructors on the structure of the assignment and assisted students with story boarding, recording and editing their projects.

Reading MacKinnon’s book and our course Module 4 combined with the examples I had read about at other academic institutions, has helped to further my understanding of the participatory model in the context of information / media literacy in the community college setting.  The graphic above from educatorinnovator.org visually represents how I want my students to engage with the world in a participatory manner.  Using MacKinnon’s model of a Netizen Commons, I feel like I’m well on my way to introducing meaningful change in my classes as well as introducing these concepts to our faculty at large.

References

Global Voices manifesto. Retrieved from https://globalvoices.org/about/gv-manifesto/

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A.J. (2009). Confronting the challenges  of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf

Lippincott, J., Vedantham, A., & Duckett, K. (2014, October 27). Libraries as enablers of pedagogical and curricular change. Educause Review, Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/10/libraries-as-enablers-of-pedagogical-and-curricular-change

MacKinnon, R. (2012). Consent of the networked: The worldwide struggle for Internet freedom. New York, NY: Basic Books.

9 Replies to “Context Book Report: Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom”

  1. Thanks for your great report @infoeduc8r! I really enjoyed your thoughts on Internet freedom and the resulting implications for participatory culture in libraries and in general. Several of these thoughts were expressed in the book I read, Writing on the Wall by Tom Standage. He underscored the role of social media aspect of the new digital age as a way to encourage this “Netizen centric internet” as it moves communication into the hands of all.

    The graphic you provided really sums up all of these ideas and will be useful in reimagining and designing new adult programs at my library. Now that I think about it, I really should stop considering them programs so much as community events.

  2. Thanks @satisspiritus! The power of the netizen commons is a participatory model as I realized after this week. Regulation in the form of governments or corporations is a constant threat, and MacKinnon covered many examples and I highly recommend it. It sounds like Standage’s book does the same. I thank you for bringing it to my attention — it will be added to my Goodreads list!

  3. @infoeduc8r MacKinnon’s idea of netizens “making sure that the Internet evolves in a citizen-centric manner” is a good one and is evident in our society in some ways. I think a good example of this kind of citizen involvement is the current political scene. Information comes at us from every political point of view, not just from the two major parties, and it seems to me that citizens are pushing back, blogging and commenting on social media their thoughts and opinions. There is a great movement afoot to not simply accept the status quo.

    But, my question to you is, do you think we need to help students and patrons find reliable, trustworthy information, and to help them get to the actual source of that information?

    I realize we have to monitor our own opinions and not stifle interactions between students and patrons, but much of the information we receive and consider is slanted towards a particular point of view.

    Are students still taught to understand that censorship and propaganda are used even in this country to persuade them to support a particular point of view (or candidate)? The idea of the hyperlinked library, and of positive connected communities, only works when those sharing information mean well and value the people in their communities. I think we must learn to discern if those informing us want to persuade only for the sake of maintaining their own power or to do harm to individuals. I would be interested in your thoughts about this.

    Great book review! Thank you so much! The title has been added to my “to read” list!

    1. @mcbrown Thank you for your thoughtful insight. Your comments give me pause to imagine what the assignment might look like, and I appreciate it very much. One of the basic objectives of the information competency class I teach is for students to evaluate the information that they find for authority, relevancy, bias, etc. It is a constant battle and it is getting harder to discern the objectives of many “foundations” and .org sites and like you say, “getting to the actual source of that information”. I’ve had students find a .org on environmental justice backed by the Koch brothers and another .org on children’s health issues sponsored by a little pharmaceutical company named Dupont deNemours! College librarians are bringing examples of censorship and propaganda to the classroom and it is a constant uphill battle. Last week I team taught a session with an instructor on checking the facts mentioned by the U.S. presidential candidates. Students came away with tools they can use and were enlightened on how candidates manipulate the facts to serve their own goals. I haven’t thought about how I will work this lesson in on the peer-to-peer participatory assignment, so thank you for bringing it to my attention and bringing me back to reality 🙂 Perhaps I could have students evaluate other students’ sources for reliability? Or if I make it a group project– perhaps make it a contest to test and report back on another group’s content. If it becomes a source for the community, I can make it a service learning project where students have to corroborate what they found within the community. I will have to give it some thought…and I would love suggestions!

  4. @infoeduc8r I definitely will check it out, hopefully when I get a break from assigned reading! It’s interesting though, the fine line between overregulation and not enough. I keep thinking about how recently the FCC finally made internet a utility, freeing the possibility of a neutral internet (and reasonable prices). Theoretically, antitrust laws would also help in this regard. But I guess, in the end, the people have to want these changes to be made before such actions can be made.

  5. @infoeduc8r Not only did I enjoy your insightful review I was encouraged to learn how you are taking these readings and concepts into the classroom to create meaningful lessons. I will place this book on my “must read” list!

    1. Thank you @jomake. I’m learning a lot from this class and realizing that “hyperlinking” is more than just making connections through web links, but it’s all about making the connections with people whether that is teach to student, student to student, student to world at large! I really want to enhance my IL class with global examples and this book was very helpful.

  6. @infoeduc8r Your review struck a chord with me because I have always wanted to make the IL sessions I conduct for high school students to be more participatory but I never knew how. I am inspired by your determination to take all of the lessons we a learning this semester to heart and applying them to the IL workshops you have with college students.

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