Digital era and the test of freedom!

Digital era and the test of freedom!
This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and

By Alfred Peza

Albanians are one of the smallest nations in the world and throughout history, they have been deprived of their freedom due to the wars, invasions and threats made by the big ones. After the world wars and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the return of freedom in the former communist East after pluralism and consolidation of democratic systems was restored, there was also a revolution of new digital technologies. It was the era of the birth of new companies in “Silicon Valley” which brought the Internet, personal computers, smart phones and the new challenges in the domain of robots, artificial intelligence, space and technology of the future. This also led to the birth of a new class of young super billionaires.

This was a revolution which inevitably included Albanians, introducing mobile phones, computers, internet, digital systems, social networks and online media as part of their lives.

This big change which has drastically changed our way of living, has been unimaginable a few years ago for Albanians and Albania. Within a quarter of the century, from total isolation, Albanians have passed into a space of limitless freedom without restrictions. The 25 year olds of that period are now 50. Meanwhile, those who were born in freedom are 20-30 years old today, growing up as a generation belonging to another era of freedom.

From the challenges of survival under the worst communist dictatorship, today’s challenges are completely different and almost the opposite. Today, the west and civilized world in general are facing challenges of survival under the “dictatorship” of an endless freedom, because today’s society may be facing a test which it has never faced before. Today’s societies and the world have turned from vertical to horizontal. Due to the revolution of the digital age, the monopoly of information has shifted from the people with power to society, to the common people. Adapting with this new reality seems to be one of the biggest challenges not only for societies with fragile democracies such as ours, but also in societies which have more consolidated democracies than ours.

One of the biggest debates provoked in the recent hours in the USA relates to a declaration made by the US President, Donald Trump on television, which is not only the main source of information and entertainment for society, but also one of the biggest symbols of the freedom of speech. International media have considered it as “one of the most dictatorial threats he has ever made”. He threatened that he would shut down NBC and other US TV networks, by saying that they offer to the public fake news.

“With all those fake news coming out of NBC and other TV networks, when will their licenses be revoked? This is very bad for the country”, Trump wrote in his official Twitter profile.

Trump’s reaction followed a news story by NBC, reporting that the President had requested for the nuclear arsenal of the USA to grow tenfold after he saw a leaflet which said that the USA’s nuclear arsenal had registered a gradual decline since the ‘60s. The story also quoted three US officials which were present in the room when Trump made these comments. “Fake NBC made up a report according to which, I have asked a tenfold growth of our nuclear arsenal”, Trump said.

NBC is one of the biggest TV networks in America and this is not the first time the US president clashes with the media giants, starting with the CNN and so on. This example, which comes from the center of democracy and from the most important man of the planet, shows how fragile the balances of freedom are today due to democratic traditions, due to freedom and due to a revolution of the digital technologies of information in an era such as today’s.

It goes without saying that when this problem exists in the most important temple of democracy, then no other state, nation and society little or not at all democratic, is immune to this new challenge. And less immune are those states where for years, democratic developments have been accompanied with a growing influence of extremism of all shapes. Neither Western and democratic Europe is immune, let alone the former communist countries of the East, where problems and challenges of freedom have always been present throughout their history.

Sooner or later, Albania and Albanians will face this crucial challenge of democracy and our era; even more when we think of our distant and near history and its relations with freedom, especially the freedom of speech, expression, thought and opinion.

This makes the relations of the Albanian people with the freedom of speech and universal and constitutional right of information very fragile. Even powers, democratic institutions, political leaders, political parties, civil societies and other players, are going through a very delicate and important period. At first glance, due to the mass penetration of the internet, one gets the impression that this freedom has given its fruits. And this impression becomes even more accentuated when we see the massive use of social networks, the two million Facebook accounts and over 30 thousand websites in the Albanian language.

So far, in spite of the ups and downs of the relationship with this new space of freedom, it looks like things are balanced. We will face new challenges when we will need to draft and approve new laws and regulations to adapt to this reality, as part of the obligations for integration in the EU. The report between freedom and the law in democracy along with the will of political leaders such as was the recent case of President Trump, are the true tests of the future.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy


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