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The 2021 edition of RightsCon, the 10th anniversary of this event, will take place online from 7 to 11 June. RightsCon is an annual event that brings together the different stakeholders working at the intersections of human rights and technology.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) sees RightsCon as a convening space for strategising and networking, as well as an opportunity to showcase APC’s work and perspectives on human rights in the digital space, a feminist internet, access and digital inclusion, social justice and environmental sustainability. 

APC's participation at this year’s edition of RightsCon will focus on bringing alternative and global South approaches to discussions on strategies to counter gender-based violence online, the intersections between technology, social justice, environmental justice and rights, how cyber norms work in real life, the political choices behind the use of online collaboration tools, private sector accountability, and how to counter digital exclusion.

More information on RightsCon and this year’s programme are available here.

Sessions organised and co-organised by APC
Tuesday 8 June

09:15 to 10:15 ET

Integrating environmental and social justice into transparency reporting in the tech sector

Organised by APC and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) 

For 10 years, transparency reporting in the tech sector has concentrated on threats to privacy and free expression. Sustainability reporting in this industry has also kept a narrow focus on the environmental performance of IT products. These transparency reports are valuable but incomplete. Holistic transparency reporting must enable users to hold global technology companies and network operators accountable for their impact on the full spectrum of rights, as well as environmental and social justice. This panel will bring together researchers, activists and technologists to explore rights-based indicators and policies for the design, production, procurement, use, repair, recycling and disposal of communication technology.

21:45 to 22:45 ET

Co-creating a feminist internet: Discourse and solutions to online violence and hatred

Organised by APC and the Feminist Internet Research Network (FIRN)

In this session, we want to discuss pragmatic and political modes of engagement and “possible solutions” to online violence and extremism that are grounded in feminist and intersectional perspectives and research. A caveat is necessary to highlight that what we are interested in are processes, modes of engagement and tools rather than a blinkered faith in techno-solutionism; this session will deepen the discourse on addressing and engaging with online violence, and is a step towards making a feminist internet.

Wednesday 9 June

05:15 to 06:15 ET

Structures that silence: countering digital exclusion of the most marginalised in online spaces

Organised by APC, the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE), CREA, UHAI - The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, and WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform

Even as the internet and digital technologies enable participation in public life, they also compound discrimination and reproduce structural inequalities. Companies that own and operate digital platforms regulate content in ways which are ambiguous, opaque and in violation of the rights of users. They also rely on a mix of automation and devalued human labour for actual moderation. These companies determine online public space and discourse on the basis of viral popularity and profit, rather than on democratic and sustainable processes or justice. Even with these problems, LBT, WHRD and sex worker communities continue to use these technologies to organise, challenge discriminatory norms, structures and practices, amplify their work for justice, and strengthen their collective impact. Despite expressing commitment to human rights, there is a huge divide between expressed intentions of technology companies and the realities of these communities. It’s time confront the contradictions and get on the same page.

09:00 to 10:00 ET

Cyber norms: Do they hold up IRL (in real life)?

Organised by APC, Research ICT Africa, Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) India, and Global Partners Digital (GPD) 

The use of cyberspace by states to conduct large-scale and damaging attacks like SolarWinds is becoming more of a norm. But the opposite should be true. Cyber norms aren’t working unless states call out violations of norms, actively observe and implement them, or hold each other accountable. Or perhaps, norms aren’t being devised, driven and complied with well enough. In this session, we’ll take three real-life examples of large-scale incidents and apply agreed cyber norms to them. To begin, we will explain how the cases were selected and the objectives of applying agreed norms to analyse these cases. Through break-out rooms, representatives of different expert groups will help participants identify what norms applied in each case, whether they were heeded and/or violated, and whether a different form of the norm may have worked better. This interactive exercise, with an array of expert stakeholders (including academics, civil society, technical community and governments) and communities affected by cyber operations from different regions, will reveal whether and how application of cyber norms can mitigate harms, especially those to vulnerable communities, and identify possible gaps in current normative frameworks.

13:30 to 14:30 ET

Online collaboration tools: Which one is right for you?

Organised by Access Now, APC, Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), Front Line Defenders and IFEX

During this session, representatives from different organisations will present their experiences assessing collaborative tools for their own organisations or partners they support, with a particular focus on video/voice communication solutions. Panellists will also introduce the "OurVoices" initiative, started in 2020 to support groups and activists in need of free and secure videoconferencing solutions. Panellists will also explain the different aspects and criteria they consider when assessing a collaboration tool, and will share resources available for individuals and organisations to build their own assessments and facilitate the process of finding a tool that is right for their needs, resources and threat model. Participants in the session will also be encouraged to share their own experiences and challenges.

Sessions where APC staff will be speaking
Monday 7 June

10:45 to 11:45 ET

Taking stock of the Oversight Board’s first year

This panel will take stock of the work of the Oversight Board (a body that makes consequential precedential content moderation decisions on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram) since the announcement of its first members in May 2020. Panellists will critically reflect on the development of the Board over its first year and consider its future evolution. They will address such issues as: the constituency of the Board’s membership; the choice of cases accepted by the Board for review; the nature and significance of the decisions and policy recommendations issued; the impact of public comments upon the Board’s outputs; the effectiveness of the implementation of the Board’s decisions and policy recommendations by Facebook and Instagram; the Board’s approach to public engagement; and the role of the Board’s administration.

Tuesday 8 June

05:30 to 06:30 ET

Reflections on digital gender-based violence in the context of COVID-19

Organised by Point of View

This session – including brief talks by facilitators followed by strategising solutions in breakout rooms – will bring together South Asian perspectives on the changing nature of digital violence during COVID-19, and what this means for a post-pandemic world. It will examine how digital violence is committed in a continuum, especially during the ongoing pandemic; how it is often difficult to distinguish the consequences of actions that are initiated in digital environments from offline realities and vice versa; and what this means for women and people of marginalised genders. There will be discussions on forms of violence that intersect with/include privacy breaches, increased surveillance, restrictions on digital access, and more. In breakout rooms, participants will explore and strategise, through an intersectional lens, how women and queer persons can have control over their own digital lives, freedom and rights, and navigate digital spaces safely and freely.

11:45 to 12:45 ET

Gender and knowledge participation: Mapping efforts at equity

Organised by the Wikimedia Foundation

Efforts to produce, reproduce and access knowledge frequently experience marked inequality alongside gender and other intersectional identity lines. Much knowledge has been neglected by patriarchal, capitalist power structures that do not take into account the different political, economic and cultural inequalities that exist in our societies. In traditional fields of cultural production, it is common to see women and people with a diverse sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) excluded through legal frameworks, editorial practices, and critical operations. This session seeks to explore the different cultural and material barriers around gender and the intersectional oppressions that exist, what different participants of the digital ecosystem are doing, and what more needs to be done to achieve equitable knowledge representation.

13:30 to 14:30 ET

Consultation with U.N. Special Rapporteur Irene Khan: Girls and women at the crossroads of freedom of expression

Organised by the Office of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression

The report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression to the General Assembly will focus on the impact of freedom of expression on various dimensions of gender equality and gender justice. This session will serve as part of the official consultations to inform the report and shape the recommendations. Attacks on the freedom of expression and opinion of women and girls is a grave problem and impacts on their ability to participate in political and public life and on their rights to development, and manifests itself often with violence with a particular gendered lens. The session will also touch on the gendered digital divide and its implications. This session is aimed at uncovering key issues and devising strategies to tackle them.

Wednesday 9 June

16:00 to 17:00 ET

Fostering civil society resilience through the Wikimedia projects: Strategies of activism and internet decolonisation

Organised by Wikimedia Argentina

This session seeks to define, through a participatory dynamic, what we understand as decolonisation of the internet from a Southern perspective: hacking the concept, finding a definition that can be a common ground among all of us who are part of the session. By opening up a participatory debate among the participants of the session, we will share a draft with recommendations elaborated with civil society organisations, social activists and the Wikimedia movement in Latin America from February to May 2021.

16:00 to 17:00 ET

Lightning Talk: Feminist infrastructure, community networks and plenty of gambiarras: Learnings from the challenges of translating feminist principles into practice

Organised with support from the APC Feminist Internet Research Network (FIRN)

The feminist infrastructures field has been showing that technologies are not neutral in many ways, including by embodying patriarchal and colonial assumptions. At the same time, feminist infrastructures are not limited to the technical status quo – there will always be escapes and hacks. They invite us to act in a field marked by disputes to challenge norms. But what are the challenges when translating feminist intentions into building digital infrastructure and community networks, while doing participatory research? By providing support for a two-year action research initiative on community networks and feminist infrastructure in a Brazilian traditional Black community, we have realised that social interactions with infrastructures and socio-technical networks are crossed by discussions, conflicts and negotiations. Here, we intend to explore reflections from our journey, such as: How can we create a welcome environment for different bodies and social groups? What does intersectional feminism mean on the ground, especially considering gender and race intersections with reflexivity practices?

Thursday 10 June

08:30 to 09:30 ET

Gender and disinformation: Towards a gender-based approach

Organised by the Digital Rights Foundation and EU DisinfoLab

This Community Lab will explore the intersections of gender and disinformation (for instance, related to conflict, political participation and gender-based violence). We aim to broaden and sharpen our understanding of the problem and to strategise responses through research, policy, and coalition building. We will lay the foundation of the session together by reviewing selected definitions, frameworks and examples of gendered disinformation. Participants will be asked to contribute further perspectives and dimensions to account for geographic, gender, disciplinary and societal diversity.

08h30 to 09h30 ET

Advancing human rights and digital collaboration: UNESCO call for participation in the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Internet Universality Indicators (IUIs)

Organised by UNESCO

UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators aim to assess levels of achievement, in individual countries, of the four fundamental ROAM principles included in the concept of "Internet Universality", which advocates for an internet that is based on human Rights (R), that is Open (O), Accessible to all (A) and nurtured by Multistakeholder participation (M). Therefore, UNESCO is using the occasion of this strategy session to present major updates from UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators projects and introduce its Dynamic Coalition on Internet Universality Indicators (DC on IUIs) launched at the 2020 Internet Governance Forum (IGF). UNESCO seeks to engage extensive partnership with the RightsCon community via the newly launched Dynamic Coalition of IUIs so as to join forces for advancing human rights and fostering digital collaboration in line with the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. The event will trigger discussion on the following themes:

  • How can the Dynamic Coalition on IUIs and its members and partners support Internet Universality projects and enhance national multistakeholder collaborations for advancing human rights online and digital cooperation at the national, regional and global levels?

  • What is the Dynamic Coalition on IUIs supposed to offer and how can it improve? (For example, regular exchanges of good practices, lessons learned via webinars, virtual and physical trainings, and facilitating data collection and methodology as well as the implementation of recommendations).

  • How can UNESCO encourage the participation of the RightsCon community and stakeholders in the Dynamic Coalition and raise interest from more countries and stakeholders to conduct voluntary assessment of Internet Universality Indicators to advance human rights in the digital age?

15:30 to 16:30 ET

Gender based violence in our NGOs and advocacy spaces: Let’s act!

Online gender-based violence has become a core issue for many digital rights NGOs. However, most of these NGOs are still reluctant to acknowledge the gender-based violence they've allowed to remain forgotten or even exerted towards the victims who have raised their voices at the cost of being gaslighted, silenced or even harassed to drop the issues that affect us as a community fighting to defend human rights and dignity. All of this comes at the cost of the health and well-being of our peers (and “the human rights defence community"), due to the lack of accountability practices, community commitments, or even transformative justice strategies.

Friday 11 June 

06:00 to 07:00 ET

“Track my period, not my data!”: Making femtech accountable

Organised by IT for Change and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)

Femtech, the array of digital technologies that focus on sexual and reproductive health of women, has become a thriving market in recent years. Aided by the “quantified self” movement and weak data governance frameworks, femtech apps deploy extractivist business models that help maintain the status quo of big tech dominance. This hand-in-glove relationship between femtech and big tech and its impact on data flows has been debated in the global North. However, the same has not happened in the global South. Through a guided discussion, the session will aim to bring voices from feminist organisations and digital rights organisations from global South on various threads, including data governance in health data, self-tracking and behaviour modification, and design of femtech apps. The session will afford an opportunity to learn from and contribute to dialogue drawing from deep expertise and a range of perspectives, to unpack “whose” data is collected by “whom” and for “what”, within the global circuits of surveillance capitalism. Going beyond critique of extractive femtech industry practices, the session hopes to galvanise insights on how such technologies can be used to strengthen and affirm the sexual and reproductive health rights of people.

06:00 to 07:00 ET

Unpacking the digital inclusion paradox: The Freedom Online Coalition’s task force on digital equality

Organised by Research ICT Africa and the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC)

In February 2020, the Freedom Online Coalition published a Joint Statement on Digital Inclusion. To help implement that statement and encourage member states to take concrete actions towards achieving the goals listed in it, the FOC launched a Taskforce on Digital Equality in August 2020. This session will explore the complex interplay between different concepts that denote our understanding of what kind of internet “access” and use we strive for, and what we hope to achieve by overcoming digital divides and promoting digital inclusion in different parts of the world.

08:30 to 09:30 ET

Open book, turn off Wi-Fi: Accessing online education during COVID-19

Organised by Youth SIG (Youth Observatory) and the Internet Society (ISOC)

Online education is the trend of the 21st century. COVID-19 proved that it will stay in our lives for a long time. But are we ready to adapt to this trend, and stare at the monitor in less interactive classes for hours for the sake of learning? Obviously not. Can we identify online education as a problem, rather than a trend, and if yes, how wide-reaching it is? Is it an individual, societal or governmental (infrastructural) problem, or all of the above? Our session enables the community to join the evolving discussion. They are not alone; our facilitators from four diverse regions, whom we call "Books", will help them feel the multistakeholder spirit. Unlike lecture-type presentations, our facilitators will tell their stories, outline how they personally experienced online education, and encourage the community to "read" them and reflect on ideas. Since it will be an online session, our moderator will create breakout rooms for each region and their facilitator will wait for the participants to enter. Each participant can enter the room at any time to "read the Book" and exchange ideas, or leave and join another one. After telling their stories, our facilitators will ask the participants what they think or feel about this problem in their region. Everybody will have access to a shared document in the "Chat" section so that they can share the problems with online education that they have identified.

09:45 to 10:45 ET

What governance framework to minimise the environmental footprint of the digital transition?

Organised by: Greens/EFA at the European Parliament.

The tech sector has increased our energy consumption. To address the environmental impact of the ICT sector, the European Union must accelerate innovation and digitalisation in a way compatible with our CO2 reduction goals, climate neutrality aims, and high environmental standards. This strategy session will help shape the debate on the environmental impacts of digital technologies and infrastructure and gather feedback on the current obstacles faced by the tech industry to deploy well-suited solutions; how technologies can be deployed to benefit society, advance research and accelerate our climate transition without their impact hampering our environmental goals; and what kind of regulatory framework we need to ensure both a digital and a green age.

Suggested readings/resources

On a feminist internet:

Feminist Principles of the Internet  

Feminist Internet Research Network (FIRN)  

On cyber norms:

APC comments on the final report of the OEWG on cybersecurity

On digital inclusion and equality: 

Ending digital exclusion: Why the access divide persists and how to close it

Bridging the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective: APC submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Bottom-up Connectivity Strategies: Community-led small-scale telecommunication infrastructure networks in the global South

On online hate and extremism:

Challenging hate narratives and violations of freedom of religion and expression online in Asia

On environmental sustainability:

GISWatch 2020 - Technology, the environment and a sustainable world: Responses from the global South

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A guide to circular economies of digital devices (A preview)