Home > Copryight, CRTC, Digital Policy, Digital Revolution > Lessons Learned Through Digital Advocacy – Final Act

Lessons Learned Through Digital Advocacy – Final Act

Over the course of the past several years, I’ve been actively involved in fighting for our digital freedom.  I’ve watched the web transform from into a powerful tool for democracy, and have seen first hand the web community and people of all political stripes stand together to bring in accountability to our political process.  The ideology of net neutrality, open and accountable government, and the protection of civil liberties over the past few years has become a strong focus for me, and many on the front lines of this fight to protect this environment that is very new to the democratic system.

As many of you know, my son has a severe form of Autism.  Over the past year, I’ve been busy advocating for both him, and the citizens of the net here in Canada.  As any parent with a disabled child will tell you, and as I found out this year, you have to fight big time within the system in order to get your child the support they need.  It’s extremely unfortunate (and also a crisis here in Ontario with many parents exhausted to the point where they are abandoning their kids dropping them off at group homes because the support they need isn’t there or they don’t have the energy to fight), and I didn’t realize how big of a fight parents have to put up with in the current bureaucracy to get things sorted out and put into place for disabled kids until recent months.

Over the past few months I’ve successfully advocated both legally and within the system to ensure that the supports my son needs is put into place.  As with any advocacy you learn a lot about the failures of the system and know where things need to be corrected, so my fight moving forward will be focused on ensuring parents have the proper supports in place when needed, and that the bureaucracy surrounding all of this learns how to make the system better for all.  Due to the time and effort this is going to take, I will not be able to continue the my fight on digital advocacy issues, however before I leave this venue of advocacy, I think there are some very important lessons that need to be learned in order for the fight for digital rights to be meaningful and successful.

Lesson 1: Your Voice Matters

Back in 2007 – 2009 I was involved in the Fair Copyright For Canada movement.  This movement was the first very real introduction to digital advocacy in Canada.  A movement that was created by Micheal Geist.  It was greatly successful in pushing back draconian copyright laws in Canada, and I believe that movement was successful due to one man.  Kempton Lam.  Lam showed up at his local MP’s Jim Prentice’s Christmas party one year and played 20 questions on copyright to Prentice.  Prentice was taken back big time with respect to people showing up at his office on copyright asking questions.  A deer in a headlight moment when local politicians are starting to get questions in person from constituents.

About a year and a half later, and very shortly after the introduction of the first copyright bill Prentice was working on, there was a local event happening basically in my back yard, in which my MP Peter Van Loan was invited.  I spoke with the event coordinator who at the time was a bit puzzled by Van Loans’ reluctance to show up.  Apparently his office accepted the invitation but wouldn’t confirm or deny he would come.  The event coordinator stated the tone of the conversation with Van Loans office was as if he was worried about something happening during the event.  She asked me if I knew something about it since I do follow politics, I stated that the Government had just introduced it’s copyright legislation, and that I was in touch with Van Loan’s office regarding copyright on behalf of Fair Copyright for Canada on a regular basis.  I brought up Lam’s ambush that happened about a year and a half earlier, and most likely his reluctance was due to the fact he didn’t want to answer questions on the copyright file.  I told her Van Loan had nothing to worry about, and I wouldn’t bombard him with questioned if he showed, in large part because the event coordinator really wanted him to show support for the cause she was promoting.  Van Loan did eventually confirm a few days prior to the event and after reassurance that he wouldn’t be bombarded with questions on copyright.

Within the context of digital advocacy, it is more effective when one shows up in person to your local politicians office or at a political rally where these politicians are attending.  Simply signing your name to a digital petition is not effective, and almost always is filed away by political staffers, and in most cases not even read by your MP.  Which brings me to my next lesson.

Lesson 2: Know what you are signing your name too.

I and many Canadians signed a petition from Openmedia a few years back on usage based billing (UBB).  I didn’t read the petition when I first signed it, I have to admit that.  Many Canadians didn’t from looking at the way the petition was drawn up and also from the initial press and online conversations that happened when Openmedia started screaming about this issue. A lot of the initial press and online conversations that followed was generic towards the UBB issue at heart.  Canadians in general opposed the UBB plan put into place by all ISPs.  That conversation seemed to be misrepresented by Openmedia which at that time should have filed a part 1 application with the CRTC to bring the UBB issue up that would cover all ISPs, instead that conversation was used to the advantage of the third party internet providers (which Openmedia receives funding from and actively promotes on their website) to further their competitive edge with the big ISPs.  In my books that’s a misrepresentation of the public voice on that issue from a group that is supposed to be actively fighting for the concerns of net citizens on whole.  After closer examination of the issue once UBB was reversed, I read the petition I signed my name too at Openmedia, and it was specifically worded to benefit third party internet providers at the CRTC, and not the net community on a whole on this issue.

It wasn’t until I tweeted the following that Minister Clement took notice of the UBB issue and Openmedia’s petition, and reversed the CRTC decision within hours of this tweet making it’s rounds (retweeted 191 times):

70,000 people wrote into Clements office, and it took a tweet to bring the UBB issue to his full attention. This actively proves that political staffers  possibly MPs are filing away petitions you sign online without assigning value to them.  It wasn’t Openmedia that drew the political attention to the UBB issue, it was the above tweet from someone who voiced his individual concern on the matter directly to the appropriate politician in a personal non-templated response.

Lesson 3: Open and Accountable Public Representation Within the Political and Regulatory Realm

The only real way to effectively make sure that public representation isn’t being filtered through special interest groups, is for direct consultation by the regulatory system, and government.  Rules also need to be put into place that severely punish those that interfere with the public consultation process in favor of special interest groups.  Those that claim to represent the public voice on digital issues, should by now be working to ensure that a process is being set up that allows that direct consultation, rather than simply claiming to “represent” the voice of the public.  If this doesn’t happen my worry is that essentially consumers voices will continue to be filtered to benefit special interests groups, which are more interested in profiteering rather than putting forward concrete solutions to digital rights issues.  Essentially those that “represent” the voice of the public in the political and regulatory frame work within the context of digital right issues, should by all accounts be ensuring that representation isn’t needed through direct consultations.  These individuals that represent the public view should also have all their private industry donations fully visible to the public they claim to serve.

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Before I leave this chapter in my life to new ventures where I will be working on giving those who don’t have a voice on a different set of issues a very strong one in the years to come; my fear going forward with those involved in digital advocacy is that at some point, those representing the voice of the public to regulators and to government will end up diminishing that voice rather than helping it.  Those that have filtered the public response in the past have a lot of bad karma on them right now regardless of current perceived efforts. That karma will come in full circle in due course.  A lesson I learned over the years while watching the entertainment industry be held to account by the internet community.

If we are truly in charge of our digital future, than we must act collectively as individuals.  We must bridge digital advocacy with real world democratic values.  If you care about our digital future, take the time to educate yourself on all the issues from several online sources and from all sides.  Take the time to individually sit down with local politicians of all branches and discuss your concerns.  And above all do not allow others to censor your individual right to speak and be heard on any issue, and do not allow that individual voice to be filtered through by anyone.  Only then, can one reap the benefits of a free, open and democratic digital word.

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  1. December 10, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    Jason, I appreciate your kind words on the work that I did. They made my day. At the same time, I believe many others could have done what I did. I was talking with KISS Gene Simmons few days ago via Google+ YouTube, he said four powerful words, “Not on my watch!”
    I believe the willingness to think, regardless of how powerless we individually may seem at the time, for our society to progress, we have to be more willing to say and ACT, “Not on my watch!”
    Not that big changes can be resulted but at least I can say “I tried” The idea of, “I won’t do nothing!” which is the essence of “Not on my watch!”
    Thank you Jason.

    • December 10, 2013 at 6:47 PM

      No problems, and thank you. My thoughts are the same. We need more active bodies not clicks to change things around. That’s the difference between many EU countries that rejected ACTA. The main reason why is because people showed up en mass to protests over extreme copyright legislation. As a result, a lot of MEPs are getting a very good education on digital issues. Thanks for the comment. Haven’t spoken with you in a few years, but never forgot the effect that had on the movement. That video of Prentice was priceless. Do you still have it up?

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