It’s funny to think that the same website typically used for posting videos of sneezing pandas and auto-tuned newscasts also has the ability to incite a 50,000-person protest. As you read this on your internet-accessible computer (or smart phone or tablet), I hope you realize what you have in front of you. Just one new tab over from this article, you have unending, uncensored knowledge – more knowledge than most people could ever hope to access.

Maybe this all sounds too dramatic (because hey, you’ll probably just open that tab up to watch a panda sneeze), but once you realize how much of a luxury your wifi is, I hope you appreciate it as much as I do.

Today we went to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Broadcasting in 21 countries in more than 28 languages, with an audience of 23.4 million people per week, the goal of RFE/RL is to provide “free media in unfree societies.”

Our first speaker, Kenan Aliyev, is the director of the RFE/RL Azerbaijani service. He showed us this video from a familiar website.

Think about how easy it would be for you or me to find out about the corruption explained in this video. Within a few Google searches, we could learn all about a topic that directly affects the lives of these villagers – knowledge that they may never have, and surely wouldn’t be able to access on their own.

Our next presenter, Glenn Kates, showed us another Youtube video. Before he joined RFE/RL, Kates worked as a New York Times reporter in Moscow. He showed us a video that was made by a Russian citizen documenting voting fraud during last year’s presidential election.

Kates said protests of about 10,000 people turned into 50,000 people after this video went viral overnight. At times the impact of social media in countries without free press may seem to be exaggerated, with examples during the Arab Spring coming to mind. However, Kates said that it was easier to see the correlation in this instance because protests were growing in cities like Moscow, where Internet access is prevalent, yet seemed unaffected in rural areas.

Once again, access to a website like Youtube can create change. While I use the site to watch Justin Timberlake videos on repeat, journalists all over the world can use it to document current events in countries where the government tries to silence its citizens.

As someone who typically relies on visuals to help tell a story, this blog seems fairly bare. For the protection of journalists, taking photos is typically discouraged in the RFE/RL building. Journalists working for RFE/RL have been taken captive, blackmailed, and followed by intelligence agencies. Many produce work under pseudonyms to protect themselves and their families.

Akbar Ayazi, Regional Director of Broadcasting for the Afghan and Pakistani services, said he always tells the journalists he directs that “No report is worth your life.” Yet, many continue to work in treacherous areas. Without these courageous reporters, it is hard to say whether or not information to these stories would be accessible.

So here is my challenge to you: Open up another tab as soon as you’re done reading this blog, and Google something you’ve always been curious about. Or go to the RFE/RL website and read an article by one of these amazing journalists who literally risk their lives to tell a story. Or even just learn how to say “Hello” in Czech. What you decide to learn is completely up to you – and that’s the point. Regardless of what you research, just take a second as you type it into Google, and appreciate that the ability is yours and your access to knowledge is endless.

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