An open thank you letter to Global Voices, on International Volunteer Day

Consent of the Networked was inspired in large part by the amazing community of people who contribute to the citizen media platform Global Voices. GV grew out of a gathering of international bloggers that my friend and former colleague Ethan Zuckerman and I organized at Harvard almost exactly seven years ago. In the preface, I describe how the book’s argument is informed in no small part by my experiences in working with the Global Voices community. A number of the stories I tell, and examples I cite to back up arguments throughout the book, were first told or exposed by GV contributors. In chapters 2 and 14 I describe Global Voices as part of an emergent networked civil society – which I call the “digital commons” – whose development and growth is critical to ensure that the Internet evolves in a manner that is compatible with democracy and human rights; not just the interests of the world’s most powerful governments and corporations. A few postings and articles I’ve written about Global Voices over the years include:

Today Ethan and I wrote the following open letter of thanks to the GV community:

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Today is International Volunteer Day, a celebration of the millions of people around the world who give their time, energy and wisdom to projects and causes they care about. Volunteers feed the hungry, care for the sick, comfort the grieving. We live in a world where companies and governments are responsible for producing most of the products and services we need and use. Volunteers prove that there’s another way to build things – we can write encyclopedias or operating systems, we can report the news, or host a revolution.

Choosing to build a volunteer community was the key decision that made Global Voices possible. Rebecca and I realized that some of the most interesting information we were getting from the developing world wasn’t coming from professional reporters, but from volunteers, using their blogs to share their perspectives on local and national events with the wider world. Our first action as a community – the manifesto that continues to inform and govern our decisions today – was co-written by volunteers at our first meeting, and rapidly translated into twenty five languages by volunteers.

While there’s a small team of editors and coordinators for whom Global Voices is a job (as well as a passion – we don’t pay well enough for anyone to do this for the money!), the lifeblood of our project is our volunteer community. 532 active volunteers are responsible for Global Voices today, part of the 1,904 volunteers who’ve worked on writing, editing, translating, designing over the seven year life of our endeavour. Volunteers have written more than 58,000 articles on Global Voices, and translated even more. We rely on an even broader community of volunteers – the tens of thousands of bloggers, twitterers and videographers who we feature on our site, the vast majority of whom create not for fiscal gain, but out of passion and dedication – to make our work possible. And we’re governed by volunteers: our board of directors serve without pay, giving their time because they care about our work and the sustainability of our community.

As co-founders of Global Voices, Rebecca and I are profoundly grateful to everyone who gives their time and energy to make the world more just, fair, knowledgeable and connected. But we wanted to call attention to two volunteers who’ve taken incredible risks to work with us. Late last week, Razan Ghazzawi was arrested by Syrian authorities when she travelled to Amman, Jordan to attend a workshop on press freedom. Razan is an active blogger and twitter user, and has written for Global Voices and Global Voices Advocacy. She’s one of several brave Syrians who is willing to work under her own name, despite the dangers of arrest, and we hope for her speedy release from detention.

We also recognize Ali Abdulemam, a Bahraini blogger, activist and Global Voices volunteer. Ali remains in hiding today, because he’s been sentenced to fifteen years in prison by Bahrain’s courts, who accused him of plotting a coup. In fact, Ali was sentenced because he’s been a passionate advocate for online speech in Bahrain, and has been arrested and tortured for his work on Bahrain Online and Global Voices. We are profoundly grateful for everyone who volunteers their time and energy to make Global Voices a reality. We pledge to work with you to make possible a world where no one ever need risk arrest to participate in a remarkable community like ours.

Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon, Global Voices co-founders and volunteers

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