How do we continually engage stakeholders in advocating for digital rights? How do we expand and reach more people despite limited resources? How do we carry out research about digital rights and how do we ensure that we conduct research ethically?
These were the key questions discussed during Day 5 of the Internet Rules: Unboxing Digital Laws in Asia workshop. During the first plenary session of the day, Ambika Tandon from the Centre for Internet and Society shared methods of researching with the participants and introduced them to strategies around framing research questions, conducting literature review, picking a research method, and making sense of data. She also introduced the basics of a feminist approach as a framework for a research methodology and explained that feminist research should be reflective of the researchers’ own position, their privilege, the power structure they belong to, and most importantly, researchers should be careful about framing research results away from a "saviour mentality". Feminist research should also be intersectional and investigate the various aspects of marginalisation and the oppression that may be unique from one segment of society to another.
The participants also pointed out that research about digital rights should always engage marginalised communities and actors. “There should be an initiative to get them engaged in the research design: either through selecting or designing research tools around them or opening the space for them as co-authors,” one participant noted.
After this plenary discussion, the participants were divided into two breakout groups. One set went into a breakout group facilitated by Bishakha Datta from Point of View where they discussed research methods on analysis of India’s Information Technology Act. The other group, meanwhile, met with Shubha Kayastha from Body & Data to discuss tracking freedom of expression online and the context in Nepal.
The second half of the day saw a plenary session facilitated by Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation. The participants took on advocacy and communications and the importance of continuous and more effective engagement when it comes to advocating for digital rights. In this session, the participants recognised the importance of research in advocacy and communications, noting that research lends nuance and viability to the information that is used to shape different communication campaigns.
But how do we expand our advocacies and reach more people? There are plenty of ways, as it turns out. The participants agreed that civil society actors working on digital rights advocacy must look beyond their existing horizons, expand their advocacy to offline groups, and collaborate extensively with actors within the region and globally.
Keeping the press as allies is also seen as a good strategy to strengthen advocacy and communications, as the media can help magnify the message and reach out to more people. As the participants agreed, media is crucial: without it, public advocacy will not emerge.
After a spirited discussion on advocacy and communications, the group went into another breakout session. The first group met with Veronica Ferrari, APC’s global policy advocacy coordinator. She walked the participants through the various international advocacy spaces, particularly within the United Nations, and the strategies they can employ to bring their campaigns into these spaces. The other group went with Nighat Dad from Pakistan-based Digital Rights Foundation. This group discussed national-level advocacy strategies in the context of Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA).
Since it was the last day of the workshop, the event ended with a lively party complete with performances from activists and artists from the region, who spoke and sang about dissent against government authoritarianism and voiced a call to action against social injustices in the region.