Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sarkozy's eG8: why it is a good initiative

I have been invited to Sarkozy's eG8 and I'm going. I believe this is an important initiative that goes in the right direction and I think that the many conspiracy theories that start to spark all over the net are simply quite ridiculous.

Indeed, I see that lots of people seem to think that Sarkozy is out to "destroy" the internet by controlling it, reducing freedom of speech, end of net neutrality, etc. This is illustrated in a few articles (like this one or this one) and an early movement, the "G8 vs Internet", that aims at making people "come together and use [their] creativity to reject any attempt at turning the Internet into a tool of repression and control". An invitee, Cory Doctorow, has even stated that he won't go because he doesn't want to lend credibility to a "whitewash": "I believe it's a whitewash, an attempt to get people who care about the Internet to lend credibility to regimes that are in all-out war with the free, open net".

In my view, this is b*s*. And on many levels:

  • The program of the summit goes completely against these claims. The way I read it, it basically acknowledges that the internet, as is, is a powerful tool for economic growth and for giving back their voices to the people: the summit aims at understanding how to further promote both. I quote: "The Internet has empowered people around the world, most recently and most spectacularly in the Middle East, but also in many other instances.  Are we seeing the emergence of a new society: more open, transparent and free?" Why would there be a discussion around that, with so many powerful and influential people participating, if Sarkozy wants to come back and say: "Right, I was kidding, we're actually going to limit freedom on the internet"?
  • Sarkozy is probably not the best person in the world in terms of PR, but probably not the worst either: it sounds to me that inviting a lot of "credible" internet people (with, by the way, much more  "power" over the media than Sarkozy) just for the purpose of manipulating them all in making it look like that agreed with his "evil" plans would be the worst PR strategy ever. Eric Schmidt and Jeff Bezos - both will be present at the summit - are for instance famous militants for net neutrality and internet freedom: I imagine that if Sarkozy was to make them look like they in fact believe the contrary, they wouldn't exactly give in to that without a fight... And, correct me if I am wrong, but if a PR war of that nature erupts between the French government and Amazon & Google joining forces, I am pretty sure Sarkozy would end up having popularity levels in the low single digits...
  • This leads me to my third argument: there's a presidential election next year in France and Sarkozy is more than likely to run. Not the best timing to fight freedom and controlling the internet. The French are not exactly famous for liking leaders who reduce their freedom :D
All in all, I simply don't see any evil plan in this summit. Call me naive but I am in fact quite bullish about the fact that our governments acknowledge the importance of the internet as a factor of growth (as the founder of an internet startup, this is always nice to hear) and want to think around initiative to further encourage that. As a citizen, I am also quite bullish that governments got the message from the fantastic democratic uprisings that happened in those dictatures recently and that they want to jump on the opportunity to promote a worldwide order of freedom and transparency. If the internet could be used in all dictatures the way it's been used in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., that would be the end of dictatures; something we should all strive for. Again, I might be naive, but I think that's what the summit will be all about.

And if, in fact, Sarkozy was indeed trying to control the internet, etc. rest assured that I would try to raise my very modest voice at the summit against it :-)

1 comment:

  1. I think you make some very good points.

    My personal view is that Sarkozy doesn't really get the internet but he gets that online entrepreneurs are good for France and that the net can really help push the country forward, and if a leader wants to engage with experienced online businesses in such a way then that can only be a good thing.

    The anti-camp are fearful of the fact that Sarkozy & most politicians don’t understand the game changing nature of the web for business and that offline concepts can not be applied to this medium. Counteracting the lobbying of those interest groups that would like to restrict access and online liberty seems to me to be a good thing, and I guess that if anyone can help promote the idea that online freedom and net neutrality are important for the future of the web, and therefore for the future of web business, then it is companies like Google & Wikipedia who have founded their entire business on these concepts.

    Simply boycotting seems naïve and absurd. Many leaders know that the net is a positive thing for business but don’t understand that it also changes the game. Engaging in conversation can only be a good thing, and it’s not as if this conference is about Sarkozy lecturing everyone for 2 days.

    I do think that Sarkozy has demonstrated a lack of understanding when it comes to online and that is what people are afraid of. He tends to approach digital from a very backwards viewpoint (probably due to France’s creative industry and powerful media lobbying groups) but dialogue and debate are good things rather than something to be worried about, that is after all what the net is all about.