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It's been a challenging year globally, and particularly so in the case of Lebanon, which faces the COVID-19 pandemic and also recent catastrophes in the region, the last of which was the Beirut Port explosion. In this context, our member Social Media Exchange (SMEX) is hosting its annual Bread&Net event on 1-4 December to address digital rights in the new reality: one that has impacted the digital economy, shifted the conversation around surveillance, and presented new opportunities for governments to censor online speech.
In the words of Mohamad Najem, co-founder of SMEX, "With the shrinking civic space online, Bread&Net comes at a good time to bring the digital rights community from the Arab region together. Content moderation, internet shutdowns, COVID-19 tracking apps, threats on LGBTIQ rights online, and many other topics will be tackled this year. We look forward specifically to boost and start discussions with many groups and individuals to push more policy advocacy in our region."
APC is supporting this event (see list of sponsors and partners) as key to providing a thriving space for different stakeholders from and beyond the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to rally around and find a shared understanding of human rights online. Through our Women's Rights Programme, we will be participating in a session focusing on psychosocial support for victims of digital violence in the Arabic-speaking region. "We're pleased to participate in a session that takes a holistic approach to tackling online gender-based violence that goes beyond providing technical assistance to thinking about long-term prevention and psychosocial strategies that would amplify women to take a proactive role online and counter such harm," said Marwa Azelmat, APC's women's rights policy advocacy coordinator.
"APC commits to such a well-rounded approach that would come a long way in strengthening movements working around online gender-based violence through unleashing the agency of women as structurally silenced targets," she added.
How are the latest events and trends changing the conversation around digital rights?
Defined as an unconference, Bread&Net gathers activists, technologists, lawyers, journalists, researchers, entrepreneurs and others from the MENA region to strengthen collective efforts to advance human rights in digitally networked spaces. This edition of Bread&Net will be focusing on how the latest events and trends are changing the conversation around digital rights, across five main themes.
Policy and Advocacy in Difficult Contexts: The online civic space is a shrinking, increasingly surveilled sphere, subject not only to the policies of governments, but to those of private sector companies and tech platforms. Given these complex circumstances and the impact of COVID-19, what are the opportunities to push for positive policy change in the region?
Digital Security Education and Practice: There are a number of approaches to educating users on digital security, but doing so in a way that supports long-term digital resilience and safety is an ongoing challenge, especially during emergencies and crises. How are communities creating structures of support, mutual learning and solidarity? How can we facilitate such structures? And what are the urgent threats faced by individuals and organisations in the region? Digital security is a culture that is integrated into our daily practices. How can we promote this culture?
Resilient Communities: COVID-19 changed the way we organise and communicate online. Global lockdowns and curfews have moved much of our work online, and this new landscape of digital labour will leave many people jobless and more vulnerable. Regionally, there has also been a rise in violence and hate speech against marginalised groups, who are forced to navigate a digital sphere that is dominated by censorship, state policing, and religious and ideological fundamentalism. How do these challenges manifest in online spaces, and how can these communities thrive, resist and care for themselves? What sort of practices can communities adopt (or shape) to maintain digital environments which support their free, authentic self-representation and expression?
Tech-knowledgy: In the aftermath of the explosion at the Beirut port on 4 August, locals immediately turned to a range of technologies and platforms to share life-saving information, call for aid, express grief or rage, assemble volunteers or protestors, collect data, fundraise online, and document and archive the damage caused. Digitisation has clearly had a profound impact on our modes of expression, communication and governance in both times of crises and peace. It also plays a significant role in the evolution of the modern Arab identity, allowing us to explore, practise, construct, preserve and disseminate our cultural narratives both locally and globally. On a broader level, digitisation also provides new avenues for applied research on these very developments. How can we as artists, academics, activists, journalists, internet researchers and others leverage these tools and platforms to sustainably promote access to information and open culture in the face of a wide range of barriers, including national disasters, censorship, language restrictions, content moderation and intellectual property rights?
Autonomous Alternatives: The consecutive crises that hit the region, including government mismanagement of local economies, COVID-19, revolutions and uprisings, have forced people to rethink the tools that we rely on in our everyday lives. This is compounded by previous concerns around surveillance. What alternative forms of technology and communication can we adopt to restore agency over our digital selves?