Monthly Archives: May 2009

Free speech in a small, small world

Villagers and students work on installing a sewer piper in Villa Soleada in Honduras.

Hondurans work on installing a sewer piper in Villa Soleada. Volunteers with Students Helping Honduras work on the project along with the Hondurans in a model similar to Habitat for Humanity.

My, how times have changed.

This site started in the fall of 2007 for a class at the University of North Carolina, “Global Implications of New Technologies,” taught by Deb Aikat. Many of the online tools we have now were available then.

But a recent personal experience brought home to me how quickly the world is adopting the new online tools, and how quickly the world is shrinking. And the experience reminded me how far we have to go in making sure everyone has freedom of speech and the information they need for informed decisions.

My daughter, studying international relations at the University of North Carolina, recently took a weeklong trip to Honduras with the nonprofit organization Students Helping Honduras. To keep up with that country’s news while she traveled, I used Twitter, Twitter search, and Google Language Tools (with a background in high-school French) to read real-time reports of Central American news.

I read of Andrés Rodríguez Torres, a 72-year-old Honduran journalist who was kidnapped, and who is yet to be found. I took great fascination in the use of a Twitter tag, #escandalogt, as nearby Guatemalans organized protests after the country’s president was accused of the murder of a lawyer, and then an IT worker was jailed for sending out tweets that appeared to protest the killing. I kept up with posts by Xeni Jardin, a co-editor of the website Boing Boing, as she traveled in Guatemala and followed the political unrest, and I found new people to follow with interests in Central America, from Peace Corps alumni to supporters of non-governmental organizations working to improve the lives of Hondurans.

My daughter returned to the United States before the recent 7.3 earthquake in Honduras. At least one friend of hers remained, and I continued to follow and share earthquake news on Twitter with others who still had interests in the area. The new Twitter aggregator, Breaking Tweets, covered the earthquake quickly. And Twitter search turned up raw video just hours after the quake.

The experience reminded me of the great volume of information as well as the great freedom of speech that journalists and citizens have in many places. And it reminded me of the great challenges to freedom of speech that journalists and citizens in other places still face.

But the desire to be heard is difficult to suppress, and new social-media tools are giving more citizens in other countries the means to broadcast their messages across the world, quickly.

We live in a time of momentous change, along with a shrinking of the globe. May it lead to safer, more open societies.

Photo credit:
Sarah Acuff.

Want to help Honduras? Visit Students Helping Honduras.