Journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders brainstorm a technological solution for media safety at #RightsCon2016

RightsCon is one of the world’s leading event on the future of internet; an international platform for discussion on internet governance and related issues. The conference annually brings together legal and tech experts, human rights defenders, civil society leaders and other stakeholders to speak on the issues cross-cutting between human rights and technology.

Hosted by Access Now, this year’s RightsCon at the Silicon Valley was the biggest ever; bringing together 1100 participants from 84 countries and more than 500 organisation from around the globe to engage in sessions over a 3-day period. RightsCon 2016 also marked the first ever formal engagement of Media Matters for Democracy at this forum and gave us a unique opportunity to engage in global discussion on local issues relating to internet governance, network shutdowns and more. More so, it gave us a chance to engage journalists, human rights defenders and tech experts in a design thinking workshop to brainstorm on developing technological solution to streamline ‘threat-reporting for media workers and bloggers’. With the help of our colleagues and friends, we hosted a specialised design thinking workshop aimed at gathering design feedback from participants, adding substantially into Muhafiz, a concept conceived by MMfD.

More on that later.

In all we hosted and co-hosted four sessions partnering with another APC members, Bytes for All (B4A) and Digital Empower Foundation (DEF), discussing consequences of religious expression online in South Asia, dangerous speech and sexist humour, corporate surveillance and solutions to streamline threat-reporting for journalists and bloggers under threat. All four sessions had a diverse group of panelists and an excellent participation, facilitating a great flow of discussion and exchange of views.

Session 1: Blogging ideology – consequences of religious expression (online) in South Asia

In countries like Pakistan, free speech is often governed by very strict laws and limiters, many a times prohibiting legitimate speech. The limits get much tighter when it comes to religious expression. Blasphemy laws in place in most of south asian countries allow the States to persecute individuals on the basis of what is otherwise considered legitimate free speech in the civilised world. We’ve also seen that free expression combined with freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in a digital world, creates a dangerous nexus that has cost many a lives in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. The session touched upon some really critical questions, such as; how does one regulate matters of faith and spirituality, especially those where different rights come in conflict? How much freedom of expression should there be, when it comes to speech and opinions about religions? and what have been the consequences of such speech for bloggers in countries like Bangladesh and Maldives? And what possible policy and practical solutions can be employed to make the online space safer for ideological speech?

The session kicked off by the key-findings and the highlights of a report authored by myself and Sadaf Khan, titled ‘debating faith in cyberspace’ looking at the consequences of free religious speech online. The session was moderated by MMfD Board Member and Global Voices Managing Editor, Sahar Habib Ghazi and had Chinmayi Arun from Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Dehli, Gayatri Khandhadhai from APC, and Faheem Hussain from SUNY Korea, as panelists.


Session 2: Hardly a laughing matter – could sexist humour amount to dangerous speech?

The session highlighted and discussed a potential link between sexist humour (online) and the concept of dangerous speech as explain by Susan Benesch. The session explored and tried to answer difficult questions such as ‘whether or not to engage with online trolls and push back through counter-speech’. Exchange of views between the breakout groups each with a different perspective on abuse and hate-speech was perhaps the most interesting part of the session. The session aimed at striking common grounds and coming up wit ha community driven solution to counter the problem. The session was hosted by APC members B4A and MMfD with Sahar Habib Ghazi (MMfD Board Member), Farhan Hussain (B4A), Chinmayi Arun (ED Centre for Communication Governance at National Law), Susan Benesch (Director of the Dangerous Speech Project & Faculty Associate, Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard University), Mallory Knodel (Association for Progressive Communications), Japleen Pasricha (Founder and Mariana Valente (Director, InternetLab).

UPDATE: Takeaways from the session helped MMfD come up with Muavin, a digital platform to help women pushback on online hate and abuse targeted at them.



Session 3: Big brother and its (evil) corporate twin

Perhaps one of the most interesting sessions at RightsCon 2016; hosted by APC partners DEF and MMfD, it discussed the emergence of corporate surveillance in contrast with the traditional ideas of state surveillance.  The session was web-casted live and recorded in full. Click the video below to watch the complete recording.

Session 4: Design thinking workshop: technology for media safety

MMfD team members with a history of journalism and having worked very closely with journalists under threat, feel very intimately for targeting of media workers. This session aimed at brainstorming technological solutions to assist media workers in high risk zones. This high-paced workshop focused on practical designing methods and concluded with ideas for creation of prototypes of digital solutions. The ideas that came out of this workshop substantially changed the design of Muhafiz, an application that MMfD is currently developing to help journalists in Pakistan.

Here are some highlights of the Rights Con 2016:

Leave a Reply