Scholars' Association News
Issue 23
August 2012


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File: Digital Citizen
Private and public on the Internet

In the winter and spring of 2012 the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens organized a series of round table discussions under the heading «Private and public on the Internet’. This cycle of talks sought to explore how we have come in recent years to attribute the features of a public place to the Internet. For better or worse, we tend to take it for granted that the freedoms, rights and obligations that govern our behaviour and relationships in public space apply, or at least should apply, as they stand in cyberspace. But is that actually the case?

Where is the line dividing public from private on the Internet? And can we freely reproduce behaviours on the Internet which we consider self-evident in traditional public space? If not, what are the possible consequences of exercising our political freedoms on line, and what can we do to safeguard them and maximize the benefits accruing to our Internet use? Should we also guarantee the right to anonymity? How does the Internet work as a sphere for organizing citizen movements in democratic and authoritarian contexts? Finally, how are interpersonal relationships being transformed in the social network era?

An ever growing proportion of the global population are using social networks. In the West especially, young people rightly consider an online presence both self-evident and an integral part of their lives. But how does this impact on their emotional development? And does the way we network online ultimately determine our offline relationships?

The panel of speakers who participated in the relevant first round-table of the series, January 18,2012, entitled ‘How are interpersonal relationships being transformed in the social networks era ? ’ gave very interesting answers to these questions. The speakers were Elias Aboujaoude, director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorders Clinic at Stanford University [Aboujaoude webcast] and Konstantin Gemenetzis, psychiatrist – psychoanalyst, President of the IFDA (International Federation of Daseinsanalytic Societies) [Gemenetzis webcast]. In the next article of ΑΩ International you may read a short presentation of Elias Aboujaoude’s research astonishing findings. Furthermore, Bettina Davou, Professor of Psychology at the University of Athens analyses the ways in which  interpersonal relationships are being transformed in the cyberspace.

The next round-table of the cycle took place February 1, 2012 under the topic: ‘Anonymity on the Internet – A necessary evil ?’ Its starting point was the fact that the Internet gives its users the freedom to communicate and express themselves in public while maintaining their anonymity, should they want to. In many countries, the protection of a user’s identity  could mean the difference between life and death. The panel of speakers examined how important it is, in a democratic context, to ensure the right to anonymity, as well as the way this anonymity relates to freedom of speech and its protection. The speakers were Stavros Tsakyrakis, associate Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Athens [Tsakyrakis webcast] and Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation [York webcast]. Kalliopi Spanou, Ombudswoman for citizen-administration relations, coordinated the roundtable.

The cycle Private and Public on the Internet was concluded on April 3, 2012 with the round-table session Civil Society on the Internet. It explored the ways in which Greece has exploited the opportunities the Internet provides to strengthen Civil Society, as well as the role the online Civil Society plays in Greek public life.

The speakers were: Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group [Killock webcast] , Lillian Mitrou, lawyer, Assistant Professor at the Department of Information and Communication Systems Engineering, University of the Aegean and ex-member of the Committee on the Protection of Individuals [Mitrou webcast], and Gregory Paschalidis, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Media Studies, University of Thessaloniki [Paschalidis webcast]. Journalist Elias Kanellis coordinated the discussion.

In the next pages of ΑΩ International magazine you may find two articles covering the political angle of the relation between Democracy and the Internet: a book presentation of Professor and Head of the Communication Department at the University of Illinois-Chicago Zizi Papacharissi’s A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age, and political scientist Maria Maghiorou’s analysis of the dubious role of digital communication in the so-called strengthening of democracy.

This topical series of articles gives us food for thought in today’s postmodern crisis.
Leda Bouzali

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