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Technology, human rights & movement building around the world


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By: Christopher Tuckwood, The Sentinel Project

Presented at Toronto Net Tuesday, June 4 2013.
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Published in: News & Politics
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Technology, human rights & movement building around the world

  1. 1. Are there new and upcoming technologies where you see serious opportunities or risks for people working on social change? 1
  2. 2. Technology, Human Rights, and Movement Building Around the World
  3. 3. To actively assist people worldwide wherever and whenever they are threatened by mass atrocities. Innovative use of technology Cooperation with threatened communities 3
  4. 4. Ongoing Work • Monitoring several situations of concern such as... – Azerbaijan – Burma – Colombia – Iran – Kenya – Indonesia 4
  5. 5. Hatebase 5
  6. 6. Threatwiki 6
  7. 7. Countering Misinformation via SMS 7
  8. 8. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles 8
  9. 9. Why is technology relevant to human rights? Opportunities Risks Defenders Violators 9
  10. 10. Activists need to know... • How to use new tools to achieve their goals • Adapt existing tools to be used in new ways • Recognize vulnerabilities that certain tools create • Understand how technology can be used against them Remember the 10/90 rule 10
  11. 11. It’s all about information and communication • Ultimately, everything we discuss during this course will have something to do with gathering, storing, manipulating, and moving information • This was true even in past centuries to mobilize movements • Key term: ICT = information and communications technology One-to-many | Many-to-one | One-to-one | Many-to-many 11
  12. 12. Technology can be used to... • Mobilize populations • Document abuses • Maintain freedom of speech • Understand a crisis • Give a voice to the voiceless ...and much, much more. 12
  13. 13. Communication, coordination, and liberation didn’t begin with Twitter • Oppressed populations have always employed available technology to support the cause of liberation • “Technology” is a broad category of tools • The tools change but the objectives tend to stay the same 13
  14. 14. French Liberation (1940-44) • Under German occupation, the French resistance published underground newspapers and broadsheets with circulations approaching 500,000 • Underground book publishers were founded to evade state censorship of controversial topics • Communication inside and outside the country, when not delegated to couriers or face-to-face contact, was accomplished using wireless (radio) Source 14
  15. 15. Quit India (1942) • Widespread civil disobedience was prefaced by the publication of Allama Mashriqi’s telegram to leaders of the Indian independence movement • In the wake of police crackdowns, the movement went underground, communicating by means of underground radio stations and presses • Congress Radio Source 15
  16. 16. The Velvet Revolution (1989) • Under communist rule, Czechoslovakian dissidents relied on samizdat (underground publications) to distribute censored information • As the government weakened in 1989, protest organizers used posters affixed in public places to rally opposition forces and organize widespread strikes • Forced to loosen its grip on radio, TV, and print, the government ceded airwaves to limited opposition media coverage Source Source 16
  17. 17. Cyber-utopians vs. Cyber-skeptics • Some think technology is a silver bullet • Others say it’s all hype • “How the Internet Strengthens Dictatorships” by Evgeny Morozov So who’s right? 17
  18. 18. Gladwell vs. Shirky “Just because innovations in communications technology happen does not mean that they matter” Social media platforms are built around “weak ties” “The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece.” Witness the 2001 Philippine impeachment, 2008 South Korean beef protests, 2009 communist defeat in Moldova. “Do social media allow insurgents to adopt new strategies? And have those strategies ever been crucial? Here, the historical record of the last decade is unambiguous: yes, and yes.” 18
  19. 19. Social media and other liberation technologies can… • Connect oppressed populations for purposes of information sharing, discussion, analysis, and coordination • Decentralize opposition leadership structures, making repression more difficult • Alert the outside world to human rights abuses • Push governments to implement social change both large and small 19
  20. 20. Social media cannot… • By itself topple a government • Reliably protect oppressed populations from surveillance or physical harm • Replace real-world action 20
  21. 21. Don’t fall into the “slacktivism” trap 21
  22. 22. A little harsh but worth remembering • Don’t abandon social media and other technology • Just understand what it can and can’t do • Make sure that you use it correctly • It has to make sense for you and your campaign Remember some fundamental principles. 22
  23. 23. 1 - Consider your audience • What technologies do they use? • How much to they trust them? Source Source 23
  24. 24. 2 - Behaviour is more important than tools (remember the 10/90 rule) • You have the technology, but what about a strategy? • How will it be used? • Will people know about it? • Will the understand what it can and cannot do? • Think of it like marketing Source 24
  25. 25. 3 - Assess and manage risks • Does a tool create more danger than benefit? • Do you understand the vulnerabilities? • How will users be protected? 25
  26. 26. 4 - Take a people-centred approach • Is the community at the heart of your campaign? • Are you thinking of how it fits into their lives? URL:
  27. 27. 5 - Link technological tools to real-world action • Is this a “feel good” campaign or actually effecting change? • Don’t just facilitate slacktivism Source 27
  28. 28. 6 - Ensure redundancy, safety, and security • Are users, data, and the system as a whole protected? • Something will go wrong, whether it’s malicious or just plain accidental Source 28
  29. 29. Time for Some Examples 29
  30. 30. The Mobile Revolution 30
  31. 31. Tech Incubation in the Developing World 31
  32. 32. SMS • The biggest advantage to SMS over other mobile technologies is its ubiquity… Cheap, limited-functionality cellular phones are everywhere! • SMS can be one-to-one between originator and recipient, or one-to- many using group SMS technologies like Frontline SMS • In rural areas, tweets are sometimes redistributed from urban areas as SMS Meet the Nokia 1100, the world’s most popular telephone 32
  33. 33. Crisis Mapping - Kenya • Kenya 2007-2008 • Post-election violence • Ushahidi • Blogger and developers created tool to visualize the situation 33
  34. 34. Crisis Mapping - Egypt URL: 34
  35. 35. Camera Phones and Social Media - Iran • President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood for re-election • Two main opposition candidates from the reformist camp • Major street demonstrations after Ahmadinejad unexpectedly won 35
  36. 36. Crackdown • Iran’s government has always discouraged and often punished dissent • As protests continued for weeks, the death toll mounted • Amnesty International estimates 80 people killed 36
  37. 37. Twitter – Citizen Journalism • Dual use: an organizing tool and a reporting tool • Became the focus of a lot of Western media attention • spread news of events in real-time as they unfolded • Not only internal communication with Iran but also worldwide 37
  38. 38. Advantages • Link from opposition activists to the outside world • Helped direct people to opportunities for participation in protests • Relatively easy for activists to conceal their identities • Supporters worldwide changed information to confuse censors “We have no national press coverage in Iran, everyone should help spread Moussavi’s message. One Person = One Broadcaster. #IranElection” - Example tweet during protests Retweets as % of Overall Volume of Tweets 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% Normal Major Events Iran Protests 38
  39. 39. Disadvantages • Some argue that the protests were too large and well-organized to be the “flash mob” style result of Twitter • Small number of Iranians on Twitter but their influence was exaggerated • Creation of information elites Twitter Users in China (2010) Gender 87% male 13% female Age 70% between 21-29 Education Majority - at least one degree Economics 67% from 6 major, wealthier cities Occupation 30% students 27.5% IT workers 39
  40. 40. Cell Phone Cameras – Eyes Everywhere • Sharing information means first capturing and then communicating it • Cell phones with cameras already available to Iranians for several years • Worldwide, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami first use of these for major event • Iran was the first use in a human rights abuse situation Number of Iranian Mobile Subecribers by Year 0 10,000,000 20,000,000 30,000,000 40,000,000 50,000,000 60,000,000 70,000,000 80,000,000 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Data source: ITU ( 40
  41. 41. Egypt – Use of Technology • February 2011 • More than 21 percent (of 80 million population) had access to internet • More than 4.5 million used Facebook • More than 70 percent had mobile phones Source Source Source 41
  42. 42. Egypt - Developments in Technology: Arrest Notification with Etmasakt • Smartphone availability allowed for more complex functionality than usual SMS • Example is arrests of activists who disappear without explanation • Etmasakt and similar apps notify specified contacts during arrest • Greatly improves their odds of being found and receiving legal aid or other support 42
  43. 43. Satellite Imagery 43
  44. 44. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles 44
  45. 45. Predictive Analytics and “Big Data” • Some efforts have met with mixed results, such as the company Recorded Future – If proven, concept has great applications for human rights purposes, though also potential for abuse Activity related to Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah leader) 45
  46. 46. Now it’s time to... • Take the full course! – 5 weeks, all online, only $49 • Like us on Facebook: • Follow us on Twitter: • Register for Hatebase: • Volunteer 46
  47. 47. What risks do we face as activists when using technology to achieve social change not only in repressive countries but also here in Canada or even specifically in Toronto? How can we mitigate these? 47
  48. 48. Is there value in what has been criticized as "slacktivism" or "clicktivism"? How do we transform small symbolic online actions into real change? 48