Visual Media and Human Rights Meet at RightsCon 2016

This week tech and human rights activists will gather at RightsCon, an annual conference focused on the intersection of human rights and technology in Silicon Valley, and members of the WITNESS team (@yvettethijm, @morganhargrave and @samgregory) will be in attendance. With four panels of our own and lots of plans to meet and strategize with allies, it’ll be a busy few days. Here’s what we’ll be looking for above all else:

Digging deep into tech’s impact on human rights offline

RightsCon is a wonderful space to step back and look at the systemic picture of how we navigate the future of technology and the internet, but thinking and conversation also needs to be rooted in the human rights and technology issues with huge offline impact. Take police violence, for example: technology like smartphones, body-worn cameras, and stingrays have huge implications for how the issue will play out in the US and around the world, as do the decisions and designs of the social platforms where people are organizing for accountability. We’ll be talking about that in our Thursday discussion with Malkia Cyril from the Center for Media Justice and Taina Vargas-Edmond from the Ella Baker Center.

Elsewhere at the event, we’ll be listening as David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Free Expression, outlines his agenda for addressing LGBT rights; as bloggers from South Asia talk about their efforts to secure their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and as this session looks at how migrant rights are affected by surveillance.

Next steps for privacy

Privacy is always a central theme at RightsCon, and this year will be no different. #AppleVsFBI will surely be dissected, the week will feature an all-day Crypto Summit, and technologists will demo new tools to help activists keep their communications secure. As part of that focus, one question we’ll be asking is what privacy looks like in an online world that is increasingly dominated by visual media. Our panel on the explosion of visual media online, from YouTube to Snapchat to live platforms like Periscope, will look at the implications for human rights, and privacy will be a big part of that. We will surely discuss the recent launch of YouTube’s custom blur tool, hoping to get it in front of more activists and trainers as well as continue our advocacy to other social platforms to get them thinking harder about consent, privacy, and anonymity in visual media.

Making tech work for accountability

The more of us that can get online, the more human rights abuses that will be highlighted and shared online — the question is whether that will lead to better reporting and more justice. Our panel on video’s promise as a tool in the hands of all kinds of documentors will look at how to make that a reality, touching on the steps we can take to help frontline documentors capture, organize, and manage their media effectively. The rest of RightsCon will be rich in content on these themes: Meedan will lead a design session focused on how to make sure it’s the important and verifiable content that goes viral, another will look at identifying and countering hate speech online, and a demo session on reporting and verification will showcase tools like Video Vault and Checkdesk.

New tools and strategies for meaningful action

Our Mobil-Eyes Us project is focused on finding new ways of engaging distributed networks of supporters and witnesses for action, and leveraging live video to do it. Program Director Sam Gregory will kick off a round of lightning talks on mobilization by sharing some of what we’ve learned so far. And those talks are far from the only space to talk about taking action. The New Media Advocacy Project (NMAP) will lead a workshop on video and storytelling, there will be a session focused on sharing digital tools that should be in every activist’s “toolbox”, and another will look at how indigenous groups and other marginalized populations are leveraging social media in their activism.

Are you going to be at RightsCon? If so, what will you be looking out for, and what good stuff is missing from this list?

To make it easy to connect with WITNESS and join our discussions, here are our four sessions:

Wed at 12:00: Video as a documentation tool for frontline documentors and its role in accountability processes
Thurs at 10:30: The explosion of visual media online, from YouTube to Facebook to Snapchat, and the implications for human rights, consent, and privacy
Thurs at 12:00: The role of social platforms + visual media — whether from bystanders, copwatchers, or police bodycams — in securing police accountability
Thurs at 4:00: A lightning talk on how activists can harness live video and distributed networks to coordinate action in real time.


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