"Is technology really good for human rights?" - We still don't know!
I’ve been trying to wade through around 1,500 tweets about last night’s “Is technology really good for human rights?” event, while nursing a slightly-foggy head after the post-doo drinks at the Book Club. The consensus seems to be very positive about the event – most people thought the panel and the points made were pretty top-notch. Of course we were never likely to come to a definitive conclusion, but that wasn’t really the point: we got to examine the debate around Google’s presence in China, whether Twitter really will help bring human rights to Iran, and whether “slacktivism” is more of a bane than a boon to campaigning organisations like Amnesty.
Amy Sample Ward and Matt Champion at In The News have both posted excellent live blogs of the event, which will probably sum things up much better than I could. They didn’t have to run around with a roving mike, fiddle with mobile phones to bring Andrew Keen’s contribution to the event, or persuade people to enter the media awards and take action for the Azerbaijan ‘Donkey Bloggers”!
So I’m not going to attempt to analyse or summarise the debate here. But I did promise to blog about some of the questions that we didn’t have time to answer, and interesting points that may have drifted down the Twitterfall too quickly to get picked up.
On interesting point that we only touched on briefly was whether there is a human right to Internet access, in the same way that there’s a right to shelter and water. This was then fleshed-out by a reference to the ‘digital divide’ – whether some people and communities will get left behind as the rest of the world becomes increasingly networked. As one commentator pointed out, there’s already a right to access and impart information, so one could certainly see a case for web access as a right eventually, when more and more information is only accessible online. And I imagine there would be a problem if a government chose to deny web access to one particular ethnic group, for example.
Our Twitter followers seemed divided on the ‘slacktivism’ question. Now that we can see an issue, tweet it, join a facebook group and then go back to watching Deal or No Deal in the space of ten minutes, are people mistakenly thinking that they’ve made a difference? Annabelle Sreberny referred to this as “mousy solidarity”. Some Tweeters said that any engagement is a step in the right direction. Kevin Anderson talked about it in a bit more detail, comparing the US presidential campaign of Howards Dean – which had great online support that didn’t translate into votes – with the success of the Obama campaign in “translating a click into someone going out on the street”.
Here are a few other questions to chew over:
@nickmicinski Is it a problem that diaspora have more power to shape international community's understanding of home communities than the home community themself?
@peterhay: Does the attention gained from the diaspora supercede the attention gained from social media?
@nickmicinski: What human rights violations missing from twitter? Do the socio-economic-racial makeup of social media effect who we listen to?
@r_c: what about digital economy bill provisions in Uk?
@asteris: How can globally dispersed citizens entice corporations & governments to actively protect human rights online?
Hope we can continue this debate online – and maybe pick it up again in the ‘real world’ later this year. I’d certainly like to put on another, similar event. I’m bound to have missed out some questions – there’s no conspiracy there, just me being sloppy! – so do post them below as comments. And if you were at the event last night and have any feedback about what worked and what didn’t, I’d really like to hear that too.
Finally, as I did last night, a couple of plugs:
-Don’t forget to enter our Media Awards – closing date is 1 March and bursaries are available to bloggers and smaller media organisations. More info at www.amnesty.org.uk/awards
-And please do take action for the ‘Donkey bloggers’ in Azerbaijan! More info here.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.