APC Annual Report 2022

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APC

APC’s 2022 Annual Report reflects the dedication and resilience of the network as it has emerged from a pandemic that challenged us all on many fronts. It is a mosaic of memorable moments where obstacles have been faced, solidarity has been strengthened and impacts have bloomed across the globe. “As engaged as always, the network’s impact shows diversity, inspiration, passion, hard work and encouraging results,” says Leandro Navarro, chair of the APC Board of Directors, in the report’s introduction.

With a focus on strengthening capacities and improving policy and discourse, the network has shown what it means to pursue innovative ways to support communities and thrive in times of adversity. We have seen relationships built alongside the co-creation of technologies and spaces that foster community. “We relearned how to navigate a landscape transformed with digitalisation entering the mainstream even as civic spaces and engagement became fragmented and inaccessible,” explains APC's Executive Director Chat Garcia Ramilo.

Throughout APC’s 2022 Annual Report you will discover how in standing up to oppression and advocating for the expression of human rights online and offline, our network’s transformative actions have created waves of change. From environmental justice to a feminist internet, from inclusion to governance, we welcome you to explore how we have adapted and grown as a network through our stories of impact.

 

Read APC's 2022 Annual Report in full here.

Here are some of the highlights of our work in 2022.

The collective power of communities within and beyond the APC network is harnessed through existing and new relationships built around transformative actions and our shared visions.

The year 2022 was a challenging one for our members, partners and broader network. While the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was over for many across the world, its aftershocks were still being felt in our everyday personal and work lives; this included a level of exhaustion that impacted people’s capacity. As international travel opened up and activists re-engaged with their demanding agendas of meetings, gatherings and advocacy events across the globe, there remained a need for stocktaking and trying to understand whether the way civil society worked before the pandemic was still possible or even necessary.

Face-to-face meetings with members and partners had not been possible during the pandemic, and despite our hesitation and questions, there was a pressing need for us to meet offline again to rebuild bridges and trust, and to collectively and creatively understand and engage on issues of common concern.

Digital rights were now receiving mainstream attention due to issues such as privacy and surveillance, online freedom of expression, gender violence and disinformation, directly affecting the lives of millions of people across the globe during lockdowns. With more stakeholders taking an interest in their rights online, cross-sectoral movement building was necessary in order to create a coherent advocacy base where the challenges to digital rights by both governments and the private sector could be contested.

We reaffirmed the need to continue to expand both our membership and network, and to work closely with local communities, including Indigenous people’s organisations with whom we had never worked before. New organisations with young activists taking on digital rights issues in innovative and creative ways were also important to us.

Some of the “old” struggles remained. Many APC members still battled to secure resources – and for some the situation had worsened, with governments placing more restrictions on the operations of NGOs. This, alongside the start of the war in Ukraine, meant that sustainable funding was harder to source. Members also still struggled with writing proposals, internal capacity issues, and retaining and using the knowledge they generated in their organisations in a productive way.

Addressing these challenges required work with our members and across our network of partners, and reaching out to new potential allies.

How we brought about change:

  • Nurturing the environment of care we built online during the pandemic, we created spaces where members and partners could re-engage face to face, with most meeting for the first time since 2020.

  • We built the financial resilience of APC members and the network.

  • We built our network’s confidence to engage on digital rights issues that emerged during the pandemic.

Featured member stories:
  • May First raised awareness about the critical role of community journalism and autonomous technology in Mexico.

  • EsLaRed developed a platform to train teachers in open technologies in Mérida, Venezuela.

  • TEDIC promoted reflective online practices that contributed to better mental health in Paraguay.

  • Open Culture Foundation promoted open source technology in Taiwan with a board game.

People affected by exclusion, discrimination and inequality are able to meaningfully use and shape the internet and digital technologies to meet their specific needs.

The pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities that exist between those online and those who do not have meaningful and affordable access to the internet. With many government services, education and work moving online during lockdowns, the unconnected experienced significant social and economic exclusions. These showed how critical advocating for broad-based internet access was to enable the socioeconomic rights of most people.

In many countries across the global South, government-led connectivity plans for underserved communities and schools have stalled or failed, and although there has been increased coverage by mobile networks and satellite operators, this is not translating into a significant increase in users or to closing the digital divide. Regulatory limitations in many countries also prevent independent actors from providing internet connectivity to the underserved. Despite the pandemic showing how stark the implications of being offline could be for already marginalised communities, many countries still need to be encouraged to recognise community networks as a viable solution to the digital divide. Local access initiatives meanwhile face the hurdles of long-term sustainability and meeting their ongoing capacity needs.

The year 2022 showed that renewed efforts were necessary to rapidly expand internet coverage to marginalised communities, to revive dormant broad-based connectivity projects in schools and poorer urban and rural regions, and to reinvigorate mechanisms for universal access, such as universal service funds.

How we brought about change:
  • We strengthened grassroots communities across the global South by helping them to move online for the first time in meaningful ways.

  • Our work resulted in tangible policy changes for community networks in the global South.

Featured member stories:
  • ALIN brought the power of online learning to offline school environments in Kenya.

  • Jokkolabs Banjul empowered marginalised Gambian youth with knowledge of digital rights and skills.

  • KICTANet advocated for people with disabilities to engage in ICT policies in Kenya.

  • Digital Empowerment Foundation helped rural women engineers to connect the unconnected in India.

  • Nupef implemented 18 new community networks in Brazil.

  • Servelots organised an annual hackathon in India that initiated a collaborative project with community networks around the world.

Women and people of diverse sexualities and genders participate in, shape and co-create the internet and digital technologies that reflect and respond to their lived realities.

The pandemic made clear how profit-driven access infrastructures and platforms in their current form significantly limit feminist movement building. This has reinforced the need for building autonomous infrastructures that allow for the expression and realisation of rights for women and gender-diverse people across the world.

Online gender-based violence (OGBV) continues to be a key area of concern, silencing women and disrupting feminist and women’s rights organising. Through our work, we have seen the widespread impact of the weaponisation of social media through disinformation, misinformation, online abuse and hate, targeting women and gender-diverse people in many countries. This was particularly evident during the lockdowns, as more people were online for longer periods of time, but it has continued unabated in the post-pandemic period.

OGBV has also been encouraged by a pushback from reactionary groups and institutions to the gains in gender and sexual rights over previous years. Organised attacks by both state and non-state actors against human rights defenders and civil society organisations have also escalated. These attacks have in particular targeted feminist, sexual rights and environmental activists.

With global production going unchecked despite the warnings of irreversible climate change, and ongoing environmental destruction in communities across the globe, alternative approaches to understanding and framing environmental care are needed. These should be centred on communities and rights, be built from a feminist perspective, and offer a competing narrative to the current extractivist approach of a tech industry prioritising super-profits over human well-being and environmental sustainability.

Many of these areas, however, remain under-researched and under-explored in their specific contexts, and there is a constant need for research from a feminist perspective to enable meaningful action in the local context.

How we brought about change:
  • We built the tech capacity of over 200 gender and sexual rights activists from across the world to help build a feminist internet centred on digital care.

  • We helped build feminist research methodologies and frameworks for engagement, and strengthened the voices of feminist researchers in the MENA region.

Featured member stories:
  • Colnodo enabled rural women in Colombia to participate in the digital transformation of their communities.

  • Fantsuam Foundation trained Nigerian women survivors of sectarian violence in ICT entrepreneurship.

  • Pollicy built a digital resilience programme for African women political leaders in Uganda, Tanzania and Senegal.

People, especially those facing discrimination and oppression, have greater power and autonomy through digital technologies to exercise their full range of human rights online and offline.

The cross-cutting digital rights challenges brought on by the pandemic, from freedom of expression, to surveillance, privacy concerns, disinformation and gender rights, were raised as mainstream concerns in many countries. Countries also experienced a shift to the political right, in some cases with more authoritarian states emerging and in others governments implementing restrictions during the pandemic lockdowns that were an excessive curtailing of freedoms. In a post-pandemic environment, with the digitalisation and datafication of societies continuing at a rapid pace, there were concerns that this drift towards authoritarianism would continue, and that new ways of governments or the tech sector infringing digital and other rights would emerge.

In 2022, we witnessed the widespread weaponisation of social media through disinformation, misinformation, online abuse and hate, destabilising elections, fuelling ethnic violence, and targeting women and gender-diverse people. Organised attacks by both state and non-state actors against human rights defenders and civil society organisations escalated, particularly against feminist, sexual rights and environmental activists. These attacks range from closing down civic and digital spaces, arrests, legal cases, restrictive digital laws and, in the case of Myanmar, a military coup that shut down contrarian forms of expression and dissent.

Countries have eroded privacy protections and have increased surveillance through technology. The tendency of governments towards techno-solutionism has resulted in digital technology solutions in health, education and other public services that lack guarantees of accessibility, security, protection of personal data, and adherence to human rights standards. Digital services and the datafication of personal information have become profitable business for big technology companies. The expansion in the use of digital IDs, biometrics, facial recognition and artificial intelligence runs the risks of bias and exclusion of people who are already marginalised.

Digital rights were now on the radar of multiple actors, some of whom had not considered them a priority before – but an apparent shift away from multistakeholder engagement among many governments, a narrowing of civic space in countries, and a hardening towards progressive politics also suggested that a new, perhaps more complex era of digital rights advocacy had emerged.

How we brought about change:

  • We built the capacity of activists to push back against the narrowing of civic space in Asia.

  • At global human rights and tech forums, we advocated on key digital rights issues that had emerged during the pandemic.

Featured member stories:
  • CITAD trained women journalists and civil society leaders on digital rights in Nigeria

  • eQualitie supported Ukrainian people and media organisations to stay safe online and circumvent internet censorship

  • Jinbonet won a legal battle against Big Tech monopolies and personal data infringement in Korea

  • Derechos Digitales collaborated for Latin American advocacy on digital rights

  • Intervozes ran a successful campaign against misinformation about the Amazon

The internet is recognised and governed as a global public good in an inclusive, transparent, democratic and accountable manner.

Digital policy advocacy is becoming more complex, with spaces and processes where discussions take place both multiplying and fragmenting. A number of global policy initiatives are uncoordinated and sometimes contradictory, making internet governance difficult for civil society to follow and influence. Several internet governance processes we engage with shifted to digital modalities of participation that are more opaque and limit intervention. The virtual modality diversified participation without opportunities for deeper understanding about who the participants were.

While effective internet governance relies on cross-border multistakeholder and multilateral collaboration, there is a lack of clear and coordinated commitment by both public and private sector actors to protecting and governing the internet as a global commons or public good. Because of this we saw the need for advocacy for the democratisation of all spaces where regulation, standards and policies are made.

APC’s research published through the 2021-2022 edition of the GISWatch report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed advocacy work around digital technology-related issues and digital rights. More recent areas are now the mainstay of global advocacy on digital rights, such as surveillance, cybersecurity, disinformation, data rights, artificial intelligence and issues impacting on the digital economy, in a context where many state or business interventions did not adhere to human rights standards. Persistent advocacy concerns such as the need for technologies that are free/libre, open source and community-owned and operated need to be reinvigorated in a difficult context for open knowledge advocacy. Countries have eroded privacy protections and increased surveillance through technology. The tendency of governments to think that technology will solve all their challenges resulted in digital technology solutions in health, education and other public services that lack guarantees for accessibility, security, and the protection of personal data, which was collected by both states and the private sector at an unprecedented rate during the pandemic.

With the start of the Global Digital Compact (GDC) process, and uncertainty on how this would impact on the future of global governance deliberations, there was a need to reassess and recommit to forums that emphasised multistakeholder engagement on governance issues. There was also a growing need from APC's network to reconnect in person around issues of internet governance, starting at the regional level, particularly after a hiatus in face-to-face meetings due to the pandemic, which had largely disabled capacity-building interventions over the preceding years.

How we brought about change:
  • We reinvigorated activists to engage in regional internet governance processes after the pandemic, and re-established the link between these processes and important global forums.

  • We amplified civil society voices on internet governance issues at key global forums, especially the Internet Governance Forum.

Featured member stories:
  • Open Net Korea successfully defended net neutrality and opposed the “network usage fee” bill

  • PROTEGE QV released an interactive map of legal responses to disinformation in sub-Saharan Africa

APC’s collective action and activism contribute to environmental justice and preservation of the Earth, and mitigate the negative environmental impacts of the internet, digital technologies and the digital economy.

With fresh warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the imminent collapse of the environment, donors across the world have begun diversifying their funding strategies, often to deal with the intersection of several rights simultaneously, including environmental rights. However, with respect to digital rights activists, the points of leverage have been opaque, with many funders unclear where and what exactly to fund.

Many advocacy issues are nevertheless pressing, including pushing back against the frequent online attacks on environmental rights defenders across the world, dealing with the mounting problem of e-waste, and countering the extractivist approach embedded in the business operations and corporate attitudes of the tech companies, from acquiring raw materials to the cheap global labour used in production, and the mass extraction of user data through data harvesting. There was also a need to connect with local communities, such as Indigenous peoples, who were experiencing the impact of climate change and environmental destruction on their cultures and livelihoods first-hand, and to support our members in their work on environmental justice on the ground.

How we brought about change:


  • We strengthened our network’s engagement on environmental issues at the local level through our participatory small grants process.

  • We convened multiple groups to exchange ideas at the intersection of digital technologies and environmental justice.

  • Our circular economy guide renewed the discourse on technology and environmental justice

  • We helped shape funder interventions at the intersection of digital and environmental rights.

Featured member stories:
  • Pangea published guides for ethical technologies in Spain

  • Nodo TAU in Argentina joined hands with APC members in Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica and Spain to share projects and learnings

 

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