Emerging technologies and digital tools have created new possibilities for inclusive and democratic civic participation and engagement in recent years.
Online platforms, internet providers and software designers have provided important channels for individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination, as seen in the use of Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook in the organization of the initial Hong Kong protests and this year’s Black Lives Matter marches.
Online civic space is increasingly important for civil society actors operating under repressive governments, and tech companies form a highly influential group in the protection and support of such actors.
There are already numerous examples of such support from large tech firms. For example, Mozilla recently announced a fund to support black artists exploring the effects of AI on racial justice, and Microsoft offered free protection for human rights organizations under increased threat of cyber-attack during COVID-19.
Yet the tech sector also presents unique threats to civic space in the form of privacy violations and enabling of state surveillance, microtargeting using personal data, instances of hate speech and extremism, as well as misinformation and disinformation (particularly concerning during election campaigns and health crises).
There is a need to better understand what motivations there might be for the tech sector to engage with these issues, and how tech sector actors (whether developers, designers, funders, strategists, content moderators or investors) can collaborate and use their global influence to uphold civic space, protect liberty and press for transparency and accountability from governments.
Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
Zoe Darmé, Business Programme Manager, Microsoft
Angela Lungati, Executive Director, Ushahidi
Malavika Jayaram, Executive Director, Digital Asia Hub, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society
Chair: Harriet Moynihan, Senior Research Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House