With time, Internet has become a natural communicative space in many regions of the world, while in others it still passes through the first stages of penetration into citizenry and policing. As a discussion milieu, Internet has been both praised for its involvement potential, growth of local initiatives, and provision of voice to those disempowered - and also criticized for excessive deregulation, dark web formation, and inefficiency in bringing on public consensus. Today, universality of approaches to Internet freedoms, as well as of experiences of their empowerment impact, is questioned and needs reassessment.
This year, the Internet Science conference focuses on the Internet as a tool and space for (dis)empowerment of individuals and social groups in local and regional contexts, thus forming a comparative perspective in looking at the power of Internet in communities all around the world. For instance, the EU has been attentive to cultivating local online initiatives, but even within the EU, the speed of modernization differs from state to state, with Estonia being a global leader in e-governance. In the post-Soviet space, countries have adopted highly varying policies in developing both digital freedoms and restrictive Internet regulation. The USA has had a more liberal approach to empowerment strategies but used online information to aggregate data for citizen, voter, and consumer profiling, while in China, economic logic has boosted online businesses within a non-competitive political environment. Also, Middle-Eastern, Latin American, or African perspectives on online freedoms and empowerment experiences remain heavily under-researched.
Moreover, digital technologies make us rethink what (dis)empowerment might mean beyond political life. Tech corporations like Google or Facebook have created new forms of labour expropriation bypassing national lawmaking, at the same time advocating for free access to information as public commodity and providing new chances for charity, education, and collaborative change. Cultural, educational, and even bodily divides re-emerge today on highly competitive digitech markets of connection, communication, monitoring, learning, and consumption, providing both new freedoms and new handicaps for the world societies. In the near future, being rich would mean having tech-prolonged and tech-enhanced life; new, more severe divides may form, and the question rises, how the Internet of today may contribute to harmonizing social relations in our future reliant on human-computer coexistence.