THE INTERNET IS FOR EVERYONE
To date, three corporations - Google (which runs the crucially important YouTube service), Microsoft and Yahoo! - have learned from experience that they are strongest when they stand together as a united front against government regimes that wish to shut them down or to use their services as tools for tyrants. They have created something called the Global Network Initiative.
Further, the initiative is committed to conducting assessments of human rights impacts; training employees on how to protect freedom of expression and privacy when faced with government demands; creating the means for employee whistleblowers to report violations; telling users when governments seek to remove content or limit access to information and ideas and the circumstances where they may be required to disclose personal information; and challenging governments in courts when faced with restrictions that appear inconsistent with domestic law or international human rights laws.
The Global Network Initiative is, at least so far, a relatively docile nonprofit organization; it is not yet feared by regimes like Egypt's, and it may never be. But there's a way to give it more teeth: Twitter and Facebook should immediately join in the effort, as should Cisco and other companies that are playing big roles in the ways that activism and governance are taking place in cyberspace. More powerful players will make it more robust - and its principles more enforceable.
If the market does not work and companies do not come together voluntarily, we will need other mechanisms to ensure that platforms like Twitter and Facebook and many mobile digital tools - and those that will inevitably come after them - will stay live in times of crisis.
With great success in terms of global adoption comes great responsibility for companies like Twitter and Facebook. Governments need to stand with them - but they need to stand together - to help them fulfill their pro-democratic promise.