Law in the Internet Society

Will Adult Education Promote Freedom of Thought?

-- By SarahClouston - 9 January 2022

Although the education of adults will play a key role in enabling freedom of thought for future generations, there are currently significant issues that stand in the way of implementing an effective educational framework. It therefore needs to come with, and develop alongside, legal, political and technical change.

Setting the Scene

This essay accepts several key contentions discussed in class to date. We can conceive of the Internet as an exoskeletal nervous system, which actually or potentially connects all human beings. Some of us have gradually become wrapped up in this nervous system as it developed, while younger generations will live their whole lives embraced in this nervous system. Software may be considered the “physiology” of the Internet, in that it dictates how (and for whom) the Internet works. This leads to a key contention – whoever controls software, controls the physiology of the network and therefore how it behaves.

A vast amount of software does not protect users’ privacy. In fact, this software has been developed with the purpose of collecting and analyzing human activity. This is having a detrimental effect on the freedom of thought, because we develop our sense of self and our independent mind through internal, private, processes. The creation and use of software that is freedom-enhancing, in addition to other changes in technology, law and politics, is required to protect freedom of thought.

What Role Can Adult Education Play?

The education of adults plays a vital role in promoting freedom of thought. Urgent action is required to tackle the threats to freedom of thought. In the short-term, adults influence the world in a variety of ways – not only by contributing to available software, but in shaping the legal and political environment for current and future debates in relation to the Internet (such as through regulation, allocation of funding and development of school curriculums). Adults play an important role in developing both the technology that younger generations must build on, and the views, priorities and ability of younger generations to promote freedom of thought.

An adult education framework should have two distinct but related components.

We first need to understand that there is both an existing issue and available solution. It is important to raise awareness that our interaction with the Internet is being surveilled through much of the software that we use, and that privacy (and therefore lack of such surveillance by software) is necessary for freedom of thought. We also need to understand that free software is a currently available alternative. From my own experience, understanding these key points provides motivation to engage with the further work that must be done to effect change. This motivation and understanding is absolutely vital given the role that adults play in shaping the political and legal environment.

We then need to learn how to engage with the Internet in a way that shifts power back to individual users. Teaching people how to use, improve and create freedom-enhancing software will both change the way we interact with the internet and, based on previous evidence, improve the overall quality of the software available. Many individuals, myself included, feel like passive recipients of the services provided by software; however, education in coding and computer literacy has a role to play in empowering users to engage with the Internet as producers and contributors. As producers and contributors, individuals will be able to create software that achieves their goals which, if the first prong of education is successfully achieved, may include enhancing the privacy of such software. This will give us a different way of engaging with the Internet and allow us to gain different perspectives on what the Internet should be giving us (and vice versa).

The importance of each component will differ depending on the particular individual. Regulators and the voting public, for example, need to understand the first prong as a base to effect legal and political change. Learning how to engage with the Internet as described in prong two is also important from a personal perspective and to complement the understanding of prong one, but the ability to develop freedom-enhancing software is not something that every person can (or would want to) achieve in their day-to-day life.

Issues In Implementing This Education Framework

There are various challenges to implementing the educational framework set out in this essay. This section canvasses two of the main challenges in implementing such a regime.

First, in many instances, those in power benefit from the ignorance of the general population and would actively resist the education described in this essay. In the absence of public, freely available resources, who would provide the vital service of education? Although there are various entities which may play a role, such as media and nonprofit organizations, these may be subject to their own internal politics and are unlikely to have as much reach and influence as governments. Any ability of such organizations to raise awareness and implement educational programs would also be seriously constrained if the government actively opposed the education.

Secondly, we need to find a way of educating people effectively to achieve the goals set out earlier in this essay. For many adults, it is not enough to demonstrate an issue without also giving clear, implementable solutions that are workable in that person’s daily life. Similarly, it is not enough to empower someone to create or adapt software without also instilling in them values that will promote the production of freedom-enhancing software and effective sharing with broader society. A concentrated effort will be required to ensure that effective education is available and visible to those who are interested.


Education has a vital role to play in motivating individuals to shift from privacy-invading to privacy-enhancing software, thereby promoting freedom of thought. However, there are several key issues which stand in the way of the implementation of effective education. While these challenges exist, education will need to develop alongside and supplement legal, political and technical change.

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r3 - 10 Jan 2022 - 04:40:30 - SarahClouston
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