When the Web Goes Dark: State Control & the Internet

March 9, 2021  • Aspen Digital

Autocrats around the world are manipulating access to the internet as a means of state control, especially in the face of protests and dissent. From Myanmar to Venezuela to Iran, we’ve seen a rise in blackouts cutting off critical channels of communication, an increasingly dangerous prospect in the middle of a pandemic. This public program features experts in human rights, technology, and cyber access to understand the implications of blocking freedom of information, and what can be done about it.

We are joined by:

  • Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner, Access Now
  • Shayna Bauchner, Researcher, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
  • Sophie Schmidt, Founder & CEO, Rest of World
  • Adrian Shahbaz, Director, Technology and Democracy, Freedom House
  • Vivian Schiller, Executive Director, Aspen Digital


Felicia Anthonio works with Access Now as Campaigner for the #KeepItOn Campaign, a global campaign that fights against internet shutdowns. The #KeepItOn coalition is made up of over 210 organizations across the world. Before joining Access Now, she was a Programme Associate at the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) where she coordinated the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a continental network of free expression organisations in Africa. Felicia led the AFEX’s campaigns and advocacy work on freedom of expression including the safety of journalists, access to information and internet freedoms and digital rights with particular focus on policy reforms that are inimical to the enjoyment of freedom of expression (offline and online). She is a 2019 Fellow of the African Internet Governance School (AfriSIG). She holds a Master’s Degree in Lettres, Langues et Affaires Internationales from l’ Université d’Orléans, France and holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in French and Psychology from the University of Ghana.

Shayna Bauchner is a researcher in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. Her work focuses on issues including refugees and migrants, women’s rights, and threats to human rights defenders. Her recent research has centered on crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Myanmar, as well as abuses against Rohingya refugees throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, she worked for Equality Myanmar and other NGOs in Myanmar and northern Thailand conducting trainings, research, and advocacy on rights violations. She was previously based in Guatemala and Bolivia working on issues around girls’ access to education. She speaks Spanish and English.

Sophie Schmidt is the Founder & CEO, Rest of World. Sophie founded Rest of World in 2019 after a decade of living and working across Asia, Africa & the Middle East, and with companies like Uber and Xiaomi. She graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business, Harvard Kennedy School and Princeton University. Sophie is based in New York.

Adrian Shahbaz is the Director for Technology and Democracy at Freedom House, where he heads the organization’s research and policy on human rights in the digital age. He is a lead author for Freedom on the Net, an annual report on global internet freedom, as well as the founder of Election Watch for the Digital Age, a data-driven initiative tracking the risk of censorship, disinformation, and violence ahead of national elections. A frequent commentator in the media, Adrian has appeared on or been quoted by the New York Times, BBC, CNN, C-SPAN, and many global outlets. Prior to joining Freedom House in 2013, he was a researcher at the UN Department of Political Affairs, European Parliament, and OSCE. He holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

Vivian Schiller is the Executive Director of Aspen Digital. A longtime executive at the intersection of journalism, media and technology, Schiller has held executive roles at some of the most respected media organizations in the world. Those include: President and CEO of NPR; Global Chair of News at Twitter; General Manager of; Chief Digital Officer of NBC News; Chief of the Discovery Times Channel, a joint venture of The New York Times and Discovery Communications; and Head of CNN documentary and long form divisions. Documentaries and series produced under her auspices earned multiple honors, including three Peabody Awards, four Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, and dozens of Emmys. Schiller is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and a Director of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian.