The challenges posed by global internet censorship are multifaceted and complex; Internet Freedom is, therefore, most accurately described as a cross-disciplinary field – one that requires the committed collaboration of traditionally disparate professionals: technologists, developers, activists, hackers, researchers, journalists, UX designers, psychologists, and political scientists, just to name a few (and certainly lots of folks who wear several of those hats). All of these groups play a part in creating a more open and accessible internet.
In this context, the annual OTF Summit serves as a breeding ground for collaboration, discussion, problem-solving, learning, listening, and, ultimately, partnership formation. The Summit brings together OTF-supported projects and fellows past and present, Lab partners, Advisory Council members, and other relevant members of the Internet Freedom community writ large. The Summit fosters the development of new ideas and approaches born out of this unique atmosphere where cross-pollination is achieved through open sessions and an ‘unconference’ structure that facilitates creativity, allowing new connections to flourish unimpeded.
These newfound relationships and gained perspectives yield meaningful outcomes that would simply not be possible if not for the increasingly rare opportunity to connect in-person on a more human level, something that can be challenging given the digitally-driven nature of this community’s work.
The 2016 Summit, hosted in Baltimore, MD, from October 18-20, was especially notable for its thematic emphasis on diversity, gender, and inclusion (special thanks to our friends at the Media Democracy Fund (MDF) for making this possible). These are issues that especially impact the technology sector and have in the past had negative ramifications on the productivity, mental health, well-being, and retention of people working in the Internet Freedom space. By framing our discussions in a way that allows for the consideration and inclusion of all members of society, we hope to together take a pragmatic step forward that ultimately improves the Internet Freedom community and all its unique members.
As adversaries of a free and open internet worldwide pour more and more resources into improving their censorship capabilities and new threats emerge, the Internet Freedom community has remained resilient in continuing to develop novel approaches that allow users in repressive environments to exercise their universal rights to free speech and human rights online. The challenges are manifold and the stakes great, but by recognizing and pursuing the benefits of diversity and collaboration, we believe a more free and open internet can be achieved.
As we move forward to a new year, we at OTF would like to express our most sincere gratitude to all Summit 2016 participants. Thank you for making this year’s Summit the best one yet!