For many, the internet is a free-for-all, a place where dialogue is unfiltered, information abounds, and entertainment is just a sub-Reddit away. There has been much discussion of how information is transferred online, the implications of the virtual world on our real experiences, and the kind of discussions that are facilitated when individuals speak from behind screens. However, there has been decidedly less coverage of the policies that govern our internet, cell phone, and technology use, though they are commonplace. For the majority of the public, most of this policy conversation goes unnoticed (except in cases such as the high-profile SOPA/PIPA debate of spring 2012, regarding a proposed U.S. bill that was ostensibly created to crack down on online copyright infringement). Even within a highly connected population of university students, Stella Habib and Alexandra Esenler, club directors of OpenMedia @ McGill, realized that few think about “what’s dictating what you can or cannot do.”
Existing to promote “students’ interest in media, technology, and information policy,” the McGill chapter of OpenMedia was established three years ago, but had been largely inactive during its first two years of existence. Technically a branch of OpenMedia.ca, a non-profit that focuses on a broader range of media issues, OpenMedia @ McGill is largely independent, though they do have a representative to the parent organization. This year, it was approved for full club status under SSMU, and has offered events and blogging opportunities (in both French and English) to its members.
In an interview with The Daily, Esenler and Habib emphasized the importance of having a club that specifically deals with issues related to technology use and internet policy. Esenler spoke about the goal of OpenMedia as one that “hopes to engage McGill students” in such a way that students feel “empowered” in the choices they make with regards to technology and improve their understanding of how internet policies influence the online experience.
The group seeks not to inspire, alarm, or deter individuals from online activities; instead, it seeks to promote discussion and debate about important issues. Habib stressed that “anyone can be interested in [media policy]; whether you’re coming from a business background, social background, technology background, you can have a different stance on it. That’s what we’re trying to promote as a club.”
While promoting media literacy is the official mandate and major focus of the club, Esenler also stressed that she hopes to develop the role of the club in helping students interested in internet policy find internships. Both she and Habib are Communications minors, and they spoke about the lack of networking opportunities at McGill for students in the program. Habib told The Daily that “people are like, I’m in Communications Studies, but what does that mean for the future?”
Though both Habib and Esenler are graduating and will be stepping down from their roles as club directors, Esenler hopes that next year’s executive will continue to work toward providing opportunities for students interested in media policy issues. They also hope that OpenMedia can partner with other campus media such as TVM and CKUT, groups that they feel are “directly affected” by the policies OpenMedia is interested in, to raise awareness at McGill.
The world today is increasingly technological – and increasingly online. “It is important to think of the politics behind [technology] and…know your rights as a consumer online,” Esenler stressed. At a university where media literacy is not a major focus in program curricula, the importance of a club that allows students to explore and understand issues relating to media – particularly online media – is paramount.