Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, is one of the few people who can legitimately claim to have changed the world. His much-imitated open-content website has profoundly changed the way people access information. He’s also advocated for a free and open internet, going so far as to sue the NSA last year in an attempt to preserve Wikipedia’s users’ anonymity.
Recently, I sat down with Wales to discuss the role of civil society in holding governments accountable for their actions and promoting individual liberties.
VICE: How would you define the importance of the internet today?
Jimmy Wales: I consider the internet a breakthrough innovation in the history of humanity. It presents a fantastic opportunity for people to connect with each other online, voice their opinions, and discuss political ideas. They can engage in organizational behavior to hold governments accountable and mobilize for global positive change.
Why do you frequently insist on the notion of a “free internet”?
The best way to understand free internet is to contrast it with the shortcomings of a censored internet. Open internet is when there are no restrictions on people having online conversations. China censors significant amounts of online content today. Although Wikipedia is accessible in China, certain pages are filtered. Nobel peace prize recipient Liu Xiaobo and dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s pages were blocked by Chinese authorities. Events like the Tiananmen Square riots or religious cults like Falun Gong cannot be openly discussed online in China.