We enable people to share their stories, participate in open debates, and build communities.
Among a university’s core values are the freedom to access information and share ideas. Using innovative technologies, the Digital Public Square opens space for conversation and brings citizens back online.
About the Digital Public Square
Globally, citizens increasingly turn to digital tools and platforms to express opposition or support for their governments and their policies, to engage in online discussion, and to organize around the sociopolitical challenges their countries face.
However, citizens living in closed and repressive societies face significant barriers to civic engagement both in public and digital space. In these kinds of environments, citizens are denied venues – public or digital – where they can express opinions, exchange ideas, and engage freely in discussion about their country’s future.
Recognizing the capacity of the Internet to empower citizens, many seek to actively monitor, filter, and block content to deny citizens the ability to debate issues and share opinions. Facing repression and censorship, online communities of citizens, especially excluded or marginalized groups, are unable to create spaces for expression and subsequently to advocate for institutions and policies that represent their interests.
By building new platforms and providing new and innovative tools designed to increase digital spaces for free expression, open political dialogue, and engagement where citizen participation and civil society is threatened, the Digital Public Square project seeks to enable agoras where the largest possible number of active participants can debate, share, and form opinions.
The Digital Public Square is a project of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
How We Got Here
The Digital Public Square grew out of the Munk School’s Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, a project that began in May of 2013. With the support of censorship circumvention technology (Psiphon), the project enabled a series of events and platforms to connect directly with Iranian citizens. This content would be, ultimately, blocked by their government. Over two years the project grew extensively. Platforms like Rouhani Meter and Majlis Monitor, created with ASL19, have become the first of their kind with millions of visits from inside Iran.
On January 9, 2015, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs announced further funding for the Munk School of Global Affairs to develop the Digital Public Square. This funding would support the expansion of the projects in Iran in time for the Majlis parliamentary elections in February 2016, as well as the launch of the aswat.me platform on issues women face in the middle east, and the creation of hygiene.digitalpublicsquare.com, an interactive, and easy-to-use guide for staying safer online.
Since 2016, the Digital Public Square has been actively working to support citizen education in China, launching What’s in the Bun? to help tackle food safety issues in the country, and new programming focused on creating digital space to increase public knowledge on labour rights.
The Digital Public Square project has been funded by the University of Toronto, Global Affairs Canada, the Government of Ontario, and the U.S. Department of State.
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