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In 2020 we helped build the resilience of the APC network – our members, our partners and the communities we are part of – in the face of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. We did this through launching our “Closer than Ever” strategy, developing guiding principles for convening online events, and strengthening our use of open source technology for interacting online. APC’s subgranting programme responded to the immediate challenges faced by our members and partners, including building the capacity of community networks working on the ground.
Bringing us closer together during the pandemic
Through our strategy called “Closer than Ever”, APC helped members and partners navigate the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategy included sharing information, resources and tools to better deal with working online and in isolation, for responding to emerging advocacy needs, and for encouraging a culture of care in the APC network. A key part of this strategy was foregrounding our members’ realities and responses to the pandemic on APC.org as a way of learning from each other as the pandemic unfolded.
In a time when organisations were forced online, APC prioritised the exploration of open source solutions for working and interacting safely. The set of tools we used for our annual member convening, which was held online, also helped to deepen the network’s understanding of the possibilities of open source, including the challenges of its implementation. Inspired by the convening, at least two of our members set up their own open source teleconferencing systems.
To support this work on tech alternatives, we developed a model and guiding principles on diversity and inclusion for convening online events for members and the wider advocacy community, based on the Feminist Principles of the Internet.
Our updated edition of the Closer than ever guide for social change organisations working online was published on APC.org and shared with organisations in need of support. We also published a position paper outlining what we felt were the key emerging challenges to internet freedoms and rights during the pandemic. The paper was downloaded 11,000 times, making it our most read resource in 2020.
Convening our members: Creative, caring and productive
APC hosted an annual convening with members and partners online in October – an event which we usually host face-to-face, allowing members to meet and get to know each other in person. The convening was particularly important as it was APC’s 30th anniversary.
Despite being online, the exchanges were creative, engaging and productive. Almost 300 participants from around the world were connected through various open source platforms to a rich schedule of sessions, workshops and celebrations. We used interpretation, closed captioning, virtual boards and real-time graphic documenting among other methods to strengthen our members’ involvement in the sessions. As one member put it, we came together “via the cables and devices of the very same internet and digital technologies that we advocate to be affordable, accessible, open, safe, feminist and fun.” A new APC board was elected during the APC council meeting held just after the member convening. For the first time, we used an online voting system we had developed for the election of the new APC board of directors.
Community networks: Sharing experiences and deepening knowledge
Four grantees joined a peer-learning community of community network organisations we started in 2019. This brought the total to 15 community networks whose activities are supported through APC’s peer-learning subgrants. Two people from each community network took part in this learning community.
APC built collective knowledge on community access through thematic online exchanges with community networks and partners. Some 84 participants took part in these conversations. A number of thematic threads were spontaneously started by participants, suggesting the enthusiasm and need among the APC network to have a deeper understanding of local access challenges and options.
In December we hosted our first Short Film Festival. It showcased six films developed by community network peers, capturing their experiences of setting up community networks, including specific solutions such as the use of solar power. Eighteen stories were published on APC.org in 2020, showing the diversity in the peers’ lived experiences.
APC deepened knowledge of community networks by hosting three webinars during the year on the topics of 5G, bamboo tower construction, and technology choices that communities are making in setting up networks.
We also set up a system which allows for collaborative team contributions to our community networks newsletter. Around 400 people interested in community access are subscribed to the newsletter.
By the end of 2020, some 22 community networks were supported by our “Connecting the unconnected” project in 13 countries.
Rapid response to COVID-19 through subgranting
APC responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting members through our subgrants programme, which was adapted to the newly emerging needs and priorities of the pandemic. Our revitalised participatory approach to the programme has sown the seeds for stronger engagement by our members in the subgranting process in the future. This has included setting up a new subgrants platform for applications and online evaluation.
We disbursed 21 research and campaign grants and 18 project grants to APC members in 2020. Fourteen subgrants were made to community networks, including three catalytic subgrants as part of our COVID-19 strategy. A Rapid Response Fund subgrant was also launched for members of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) Coalition in April. This helped them respond to emerging rights concerns in new government policies and regulations introduced to try to manage the pandemic, including technologies to contain and monitor the spread of the virus. Six subgrants were disbursed to AfDec members in Africa using the emergency funding.
Growing our network’s advocacy presence online
In 2020, APC.org had more than 400,000 unique visitors and almost 800,000 visits. Our social media reach grew across all APC accounts, especially on Twitter. By the end of the year, our main organisational Twitter account, @APC_News, had 15,500 followers. In April, we created our first Instagram account to target new audiences. APC was featured in over 120 media outlets during the year, from countries including India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Greece, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt and Palestine. In December, we published our 325th e-newsletter, which is sent to 11,295 subscribers.
7amleh managed the last-minute digitisation of the Palestine Digital Activism Forum
The Palestine Digital Activism Forum (PDAF) is one of the oldest and best-known activities undertaken by APC member 7amleh - The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media. In 2020, the Forum welcomed increased support and engagement from the public, civil society, technology companies and governments as it prepared for its fourth annual face-to-face event. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, two weeks before the event the decision was taken to host the Forum online. 7amleh digitised all activities and held online panel discussions and virtual lectures, with some of them specifically focusing on how COVID-19 is affecting digital rights. Despite the tremendous amount of work that this created for 7amleh and its supporters, the 2020 PDAF was highly successful. It attracted more than one million views and included participation from 28 organisations, notably Facebook and the Palestinian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
May First Movement Technology took on surveillance and the US government’s failure during COVID-19
APC member May First Movement Technology began 2020 analysing collusion between corporate tech companies and law enforcement's targeted surveillance of Black liberation activists and immigrant communities. As COVID-19 spread, so did demand for secure alternatives to corporate video conferencing platforms, and it set up https://mumble.mayfirst.org and https://meet.mayfirst.org. It joined the People's Strike campaign, denouncing the US government’s failed response to the pandemic, and the simultaneous failure of capitalism to respond adequately to the crisis. Its year ended with record participation at its annual membership consultations and meeting. After assessing the political environment, planning improvements to its technology infrastructure and evaluating the organisation's sustainability, its members elected its board and agreed on priorities for the coming year.
eQualit.ie launched an open source learning machine to protect freedom of expression over the internet
eQualit.ie, an APC member based in Canada, launched an open source learning machine to protect freedom of expression on the internet. The development of the machine, called Baskerville, was in response to the threat from botnets, which deploy an arsenal of methods in online attacks, including brute force password login, vulnerability scanning, and DDoS attacks. These attacks become a form of punishment, intimidation and censorship of those who speak out. Launched in October 2020, Baskerville operates on eQualit.ie’s Deflect network and protects sites by analysing requests in real time, challenging those acting suspiciously. It an important contribution to the world of online security for human rights defenders and independent media.