“Digital rights are human rights. They are our human rights but within the digital space,” explains Maria Malomalo in an episode of the Rising Minds podcast.
Through the Rising Minds podcast, young people shape conversations on the issues that impact their wellbeing. In several of the podcast episodes, young people discuss digital rights, what they mean, challenges they face and movements working to strengthen them. This post summarises the main points from several episodes of the Rising Minds podcast, that you can listen to below.
What do Digital Rights encompass?
Digital rights are an extension of human rights. They refer to everything individuals are entitled to under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights involve safeguarding the same principles and freedoms that individuals have in physical spaces, ensuring that they are upheld in the virtual world as well.
“Any violation of human rights online can have real consequences offline.”– Chepkoech Rotich
In addition, digital rights include the right to access digital spaces, such as the internet and various online platforms, as well as the tools required for such access, like computers. The concept of digital rights emphasises the need for a democratic and inclusive digital space, where everyone, regardless of background or location, has equal rights and opportunities in the online environment.
“Access to technology and the Internet is not universal, leaving marginalized communities and vulnerable groups at a disadvantage.”– Natálie Terčová
Challenges for Digital Rights Around the World
Lack of Awareness
There is a significant lack of awareness regarding digital rights among the general population. Many people may not be fully informed about their rights and how to protect themselves in the digital space. Ayel Del Valle mentions that the conversation around digital rights is relatively young.
The lack of understanding among young people about the implications of online activities on personal security raises significant concerns.
Chepkoech Rotich and Sumaiyah Omar highlight the importance of addressing the “attitude factor.” This refers to the need for a cultural shift in how individuals and society perceive and value digital rights. Changing attitudes towards privacy and online freedoms is seen as crucial for the effective realisation of digital rights.
Online Abuse and Violence
The speakers also mention the presence of online violence and abuse and the need to address this issue. The digital landscape is marred by hate speech, contributing to political polarization, and the online abuse of female political leaders.
Government Surveillance and Internet Shutdowns
The influence of governments and political parties on social media and online spaces poses a risk to human rights.
“The most pressing issues that we encounter in the digital space include red tagging. It’s a term that we use in the Philippines to refer to the state or the government’s acts of targeting activists and tagging them as insurgents or enemies of the state or a communist without the right amount of evidence.”– Ayel Del Valle
Rising Minds speakers discuss the growing issue of internet shutdowns in Kenya and across Africa, particularly during elections. They note that while digital rights exist on paper, the implementation becomes an issue, and internet shutdowns are used against the citizenry, affecting their access to information and communication.
Misinformation and Disinformation
There is a significant challenge posed by misinformation and disinformation campaigns, especially during election seasons. The speakers note that false information can have serious consequences and that efforts are being made to counteract these campaigns, including fact-checking initiatives.
The spread of misinformation undermines the credibility of activism and advocacy, including climate advocacy. It diverts discussions away from crucial environmental concerns and poses a threat to the overall effectiveness of online activism.
“People are spreading all kinds of false information about the climate change challenge, shifting discussions to why we must take action, to why climate change, for example, is not important and shouldn’t mean the most important thing that Africans or people in the global South should think about. How do we address misinformation, disinformation, despite the fact that the internet provides us with so much opportunities?”– Nii Noi Kofi Omaboe
The Digital Divide and Accessibility
The digital divide, as outlined by Natálie Terčová, encompasses multifaceted challenges affecting marginalized communities and vulnerable groups. The unequal access to technology and the internet perpetuates educational disparities, hindering equal opportunities for online learning resources.
- Informational inequality arises, limiting access to critical information and hindering awareness about various issues.
- Social exclusion results from the digital gap, isolating marginalized communities from online social interactions.
- Economic disadvantages persist as limited access to online job opportunities and resources exacerbates financial disparities.
- Health inequities emerge as vulnerable groups struggle to access online health information and telemedicine services.
- Civic participation is hindered, with digital exclusion leading to reduced engagement in civic processes.
Bridging these gaps requires collaborative efforts and initiatives aimed at expanding digital access, promoting digital literacy, and empowering marginalized communities in the digital age.
Nii Noi Kofi Omaboe highlights that one significant challenge in connecting digital rights with climate activism lies in the limited access to the internet. This is particularly true for marginalized communities. Despite the internet’s potential to amplify voices and raise awareness globally the communities most affected by climate changes often lack internet coverage and accessibility. This digital divide poses a hurdle, hindering the participation of those directly impacted by the climate crisis.
The digital divide also affects people with disabilities. DJ Sharifu Pinda discusses several challenges related to digital rights for visually impaired individuals. Inaccessible software programs and certain search engines hinder his ability to navigate independently, often requiring assistance from others. Privacy concerns arise as he shares an incident of depending on someone to read messages, emphasizing the need for enhanced data security. These challenges underscore the importance of addressing accessibility issues and advocating for greater inclusivity in the digital realm.
While there are digital rights outlined in legal frameworks, there are challenges related to the effective implementation of these rights. The speakers note that, on paper, there may be laws that seem to protect human rights, but in practice, they can be used as political tools to repress rights.
Examples like the Cybercrimes and Misuse Act in Kenya is discussed and how it could potentially be used against activists to silence them. It’s important to scrutinise laws to ensure they genuinely protect rights rather than being used as tools for repression.
Initiatives to Safeguard and Strengthen Digital Rights
“The first thing is that we need is to decolonize and feminize our digital, our big tech companies and humanize them as well. And for that to happen, we need to be radical enough to have young people on the table, to have them really define what it is that they want.”– Maria Malomalo
The following examples of initiatives are doing just that. They create spaces for young people to learn, lead, advocate and create long-term impact in different ways around the world.
The RIGHTS Click Initiative
RIGHTS Click is an initiative by Amnesty International and Fondation Botnar focused on the digital rights of children and young people. The initiative actively engages children and young people in various research projects related to digital rights. Rights Click is involved in campaigning projects that likely advocate for the rights and well-being of children and young people in the digital space. The program includes training sessions for analysts who are likely involved in studying and assessing various aspects of digital rights.
Linda Data is an online campaign focused on safeguarding the digital rights of young people – with a specific focus on data protection. It is a part of Amnesty’s Digital Disruptors program. Kenyan young people feel that the misuse of personal data is one of their major concerns. The campaign aims to educate and support young people to navigate the digital world safely and confidently.
Youth Skills Project
The Youth Skills Project focuses on the impact of digitalization on children and adolescents. The project aims to understand and enhance the digital skills of young people for cognitive, psychological, and social well-being. It aims to strengthen the long-term positive impact of the digital environment on multiple aspects of wellbeing for all children by stimulating resilience through the enhancement of digital skills.
Restless Development’s Campaigns, Training and Research
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Restless Development initiated a campaign against misinformation. Recognizing misinformation as a parallel pandemic, the organization trained young people in digital communication and digital rights. These trained individuals identified instances of misinformation online and reported them to both social media networks and Restless Development. The information collected was then utilized for advocacy purposes.
This year Restless Development released Young Feminists Fearless Holding the Line uncovering the challenges for feminist activists in the online space.
Environment Data and Governance Initiative
“I envision a future where we can better work together, where the intersection between digital rights, advocacy and climate justice is strong and vibrant.”– Nii Noi Kofi Omaboe
The Environment Data and Governance Initiative is a collaborative effort that brings together activists, researchers, and stakeholders working together to monitor and safeguard public access to environmental data. This initiative is dedicated to ensuring transparency and accountability in the collection and dissemination of environmental information. By actively engaging with environmental data, the initiative aims to counteract potential threats to public access and prevent the misuse or manipulation of critical data related to climate and the environment. Through this collaborative approach, the Environment Data and Governance Initiative contributes to the broader goals of promoting open data, transparency, and accountability in environmental issues.
Keep Learning and Listening
“Young people, you’re smart, you’re capable. It’s really about using your resources to make sure that the change you want to have can happen.”– Ayel Del Valle
First launched as a pop-up radio show at the Women Deliver 2023 conference by Fondation Botnar, all Rising Minds episodes are now published as a resource available for all to access. Find out more here. And follow the series with Girls Globe that takes a closer look at the issues and perspectives raised by young people around the world. Subscribe here.