JASS Blog Archives for September 2011

by on September 21, 2011 on 4:05 pm

At APC Women'sNet "Connect Your Rights!" Workshop in Mombasa, Kenya.

My mind is literally exploding with concepts and ideas.I’m at the APC Women'sNet "Connect Your Rights!" Workshop in Mombasa.

We opened the workshop with a spectrogram exercise in which all the participants thought about these three overarching statements, and expressed their opinion along a spectrum, each having an opportunity to express the reasoning behind their positioning:

Security is only a concern for people who have something to hide.

Privacy can be de-prioritized if you are using it for advocacy.

There is no such thing as privacy on the internet.

This was fascinating because it forced me, at least, to think about how I conceptualize things – these words I toss about so freely. What does “privacy” mean? What are the situations in which we leverage privacy strategically? In some cases, it’s strategic to come out into the open – in other cases, it isn’t. Within a movement, some people can afford to come forward, some people can choose to come forward, and others cannot. What does “safety” mean? What does “security” mean? What do any of these words mean, particularly in a space as nebulous and vast as the internet?

We’ve also been thinking about when you’re using platforms like Facebook or Google or Twitter that are driven primarily by corporate interest, how do we, as activists harness that space for our work? How do you reconcile these divergent interests in the spirit of movement building? How do you maintain security and safety in that specific context?

Frankly, it’s frightening how easily these applications capture our information and we inadvertently put ourselves at risk e.g. If you’re on a Google application like Gmail and you open up a new tab in the same browser to search for a particular subject – Google is able to record that information and that’s how they update the advertisements visible in your email account every minute of the day. That’s frightening to me. At the same time, organizations like Amnesty International and Green Peace, use this to their advantage on Facebook because if you can register yourself as an advertiser and find out how many people self-identify as “human rights activists”, “LGBT activists”, “gender justice”, or “feminists” simply by the things they like or sign onto – you can target them more deliberately and strategically. There are costs to that, obviously, but it’s something for us to think about if we’re thinking of going with Facebook as a real platform for our organizing work.

I think, as JASS, we are, in a lot of ways at the frontier of communications and rights. But we need to think about the implications of a "frontier"? I think the sense of excitement; the innovation etc. needs to be tempered by a healthy dose of fear. Or maybe, better put – a clearer understanding of the risks involved in being in this “space” that is the Internet – and a sense of caution in how we USE the internet.

A lot of what’s sitting in my brain as we hit the end of the day is thinking about the intersections of all of these things. How do we connect basic technological training and methodologies e.g. equipping women with the very basics of communications technologies, how to use a blog or Facebook or email WITH a really informed understanding of security on the internet, the tools that we can use to protect ourselves and our organizations and our work as activists WITH a real concept of “rights.” And when I think of rights, I’m thinking of it on a number of different levels – from a JASS-y perspective in terms of thinking of power and access, dynamics of gender and sexuality, of privilege, of class. But also thinking about what it means to be a “citizen” on the internet. One of our facilitators put it really eloquently – when you’re using “the Internet”, you are essentially a “bodiless” person or entity. What does that mean for rights? How do we bring our human rights or women’s rights perspective into a space like the internet?

I think if we’re going to do this work responsibly and to achieve maximum impact, we need to think about these three (broad) themes. It’s dangerous to share the kinds of tools that one does in an FTX or ICT training without a concrete notion of tools for security and without, as JASS gets, a breakdown of power.

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