Social Media and Human Rights


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This is my presentation from the Unsummit, October 2009 in Minneapolis, MN

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  • Since April 9, about 50,000 Amazonian Indigenous people from territories all over Peru have been on strike to protest trade laws resulting from the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. These decrees, pushed forward by Peruvian President Alan García, aim to open up Indigenous ancestral territories to exploitation by multinational extractive industries such as oil, gas, lumber and mining. In May, one month after the strikes began, President García declared a state of emergency in an attempt to quell blockades and protests. In the region of Bagua, about 2,500 Indigenous people had been blockading a road for 56 days when, on June 5, police were sent to clear the way armed with guns, helicopters, tanks, and tear gas bombs. Violent clashes led to deaths on both sides, though the official number of casualities still remains unclear, as eyewitnesses have accused police of disposing of bodies.
  • From the beginning of García's allocation of Amazonian lands for development, activists in Peru and abroad have been using video, social media and online activism to spread information. YouTube, blogs and Twitter have made it possible to share eyewitness accounts and videos of the attacks, as well as testimonies by human rights activists. As a result, people are watching, and President García is now facing enormous pressure. According to the North American Congress on Latin America, a poll in July stated that 92% of the population in Peru support the Indigenous struggle. On September 2, the UN issued a statement condemning Peru's failure to obtain consent from Indigenous people for development projects. Though the battle for Indigenous rights in Peru is still being fought, video and online technologies have made it much more difficult for governments to act without obtaining consent and cover their tracks.
  • Twitter has also played a role in building global solidarity, which strengthens the potential for successful campaigning. For example, the organisation On Q-Initative (started by Hollywood actor Q'orianka Kilcher, of Quechua and Swiss heritage) has gathered support on Twitter for its new Youth For Truth campaign, which makes video cameras, media training and editing technology available to young Amazonian Indians in Peru. Its Twitter campaign is prolific and widespread within the Indigenous Twitter community, with thousands of re-tweets by advocates and activists.
  • Blogs have played a particularly important role in given access to free information and pushing for political change in Latin American. Peruvian bloggers make up one of the most thriving blogospheres in Latin America, with more than 10,000 active blogs. However, according to a recent report on Global Voices, two popular Peruvian bloggers - Carlos Quiróz of Peruanista and Francisco Canaza of Apuntes Peruanos - had their blogs or YouTube channels taken down after the Bagua clashes for reasons that are suspicious but still unclear. Bloggers have fought back by reposting content, enhancing their security precautions, and creating reflective vlogs and posts.
  • The 2007 there were series of anti-government protests that started in Burma on August 15, 2007. The immediate cause of the protests was mainly the unannounced decision of the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council, to remove fuel subsidies which caused the price of diesel and petrol to suddenly rise as much as 66%,[1] and the price of compressed natural gas for buses to increase fivefold in less than a week.[2] Led by students and opposition political activists, including women, the protest demonstrations were at first dealt with quickly and harshly by the junta, with dozens of protesters arrested and detained. Starting September 18, the protests had been led by thousands of Buddhist monks, and those protests had been allowed to proceed until a renewed government crackdown on September 26.[3] During the crack-down, there were rumors of disagreement within the Burmese military, but none were confirmed. Some news reports referred to the protests as the Saffron Revolution.[4][5]
  • The government attempted to block all websites and services that carry news or information about Myanmar, including barring access to web-based email. However bloggers in Yangon have thus far succeeded at circumventing the censors, posting pictures and videos on blogs almost as soon as the protests happen. Many of these images have been picked up by mainstream news organizations, because bloggers have managed to capture images that no one else can get. When Aung San Suu Kyi stepped outside her home in Yangon to greet marching monks and supporters on Saturday, the only pictures of the landmark moment were posted on blogs. Mizzima News,[171] an India-based news group run by exiled dissidents, picked up one of the photos of Aung San Suu Kyi and said more than 50,000 people accessed their website that day.
  • One area that has not been as much of a focus in the media is the role of online communities in providing support and assistance. Human rights practitioners are now connecting through online communities to share best practices and find support internationally. The Center for Victims of Torture has been at the forefront of this with their program, New Tactics in Human Rights.
  • Website traffic has more than doubled since 2005, and since the revision of the project website, activists from more than 90 non-western countries have become members. We have also seen significant increases in applications for the project’s in-person trainings and other activities – e.g., a small partnership initiative in 2007 drew more than twice the applications than that of a similar initiative in 2005. Some of the ways the project is being used: * Better understand their strategic situation, such as the Sri Lankan organization that abandoned “energy sapping” activities and turned to collaboration with allies who were better positioned for these approaches; or the Cameroonian group that was making progress on a local level but saw how they could have broader impact if they added a complementary tactic to reach a national audience. * Reach out to potential partners, such as the Turkish activists who used tactical mapping to engage hundreds of other activists in strategies to end torture, or a group promoting sites of conscience that used the project’s network to build new relationships with organizations in Kenya and Northern Ireland. * Transfer a tactic first used elsewhere, such as the Salvadoran group that adapted a Nigerian tactic for preventing violence against women; a Slovak organization that used a Korean approach for preventing corruption in local governments; a Macedonian group that increased the representation of women in Parliament by modifying a Dutch mobile phone tactic; or the activists in Zimbabwe that adapted a Serbian method for rapidly freeing political prisoners.
  • As the Internet has grown, the escalation of extremist sites has kept pace in number and in technological sophistication. In April 1995, the first extremist website went online: Today, the Wiesenthal Center's Digital Hate and Terrorism project identifies some 10,000 problematic hate and terrorist websites, hate games and other internet postings.
  • One of the biggest issues with user generated content is that all editorial functions are removed and expressions of hate can easily flow unchallenged. it is also becoming increasingly difficult to monitor as more sites spring up. Another major concern is that the social media channels are allowing for hate groups and extremists to connect globally whereas they previously might have only connected on a local or national level.
  • Iran: A lot of the information is from twitter streams and Facebook profiles that are believed to be authentic Iranian accounts reporting live to the world. While the Iranian government has tried to shut down communication the students have managed to find ways to get the message out. And everything that happens is well recorded and video taped and we have to make sure that all authentic message is heard by the world. People were arrested. Internet blocked, etc. G-20: A New York-based anarchist was arrested by the FBI and charged with hindering prosecution after he allegedly used the social networking site Twitter to help protesters at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh evade the police. Official police documents allege the two men used Twitter messages to contact protesters at the summit "and to inform the protesters and groups of the movements and actions of law enforcement". Twitter has rapidly established itself as an important tool in the armoury of protest groups and demonstrators. During the summit, the police openly monitored Twitter to listen in to the protesters' communications.
  • Social Media and Human Rights

    1. Social Media and Human Rights Judy Abel 10/10/09
    2. The Positives
    3. Social Media For Social Change In Peru
    4. Social Media For Social Change In Peru • Video and social/online media has enabled Indigenous activists and advocates to bring the violence in Bagua and Peruvian Indigenous struggles to international attention.
    5. The Monks Protest in Burma
    6. Human Rights Practitioners • "To advance human rights requires the capacity to innovate tactics and combine them to create strategies as comprehensive as the problems we face.” - Douglas A. Johnson, United States, Executive Director, Center for Victims of Torture
    7. Human Rights Practitioners
    8. The Concerns
    9. Some issues • "The Internet's unprecedented global reach and scope combined with the difficulty in monitoring and tracing communications make it the prime tool for extremists and terrorists.” - The Simon Wiesenthal Center
    10. Some issues • Every aspect of the Internet is being used by extremists of every ilk to repackage old hatred, demean the 'Enemy', to raise funds and since 9/11, recruit and train Jihadist terrorists. • User-generated material increases the viral spread of extremism online and aids in increasing the social acceptability of hate in mainstream discourse.
    11. Ethical Questions The Use of Social Media in the Iranian protests vs. the G-20 Summit
    12. Where do we go from here?