How to challenge digital exclusion, promote human rights online in times of pandemia

In terms of managing responses to the pandemic that is spreading worldwide, what are the key issues that require attention by governments, the private sector and civil society? The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has released a position paper entitled Keeping our movements connected and inclusive to outline our current thinking on the pandemic from a human rights-based, people-centred approach. 

Digital exclusion makes the vulnerable more vulnerable

Communities without access to the internet are more isolated and vulnerable, unable to readily access public health information and services. A lack of internet access can also exacerbate an already repressive, harmful and unequal context for women and people of diverse genders and sexualities.

Efforts to bring the benefits of meaningful internet access to all people are necessary, including addressing barriers related to costs and data capacity. In the longer term, it is critical to give attention to affordable and appropriate internet access for communities. Decentralised community-built and owned networks are the most effective way to overcome digital exclusion in areas that are still isolated from the social and economic frameworks of the digital era.

Human rights need to be strengthened during this time of global social stress

The internet needs to be safeguarded as a public good and enabler of human rights. Interruptions to access or shutdowns cannot be justified under any circumstances, even on grounds of public order and national security.

Media workers have a critical role to play, need to be able to report freely on the unfolding pandemic and should not be censored online.

Governments must ensure that legal proceedings adhere to the principles of due process and international human rights standards. The private sector should ensure that its applications are not used as tools for surveillance.

A feminist lens to respond and transform

There are glaring structural inequalities and power dynamics in relation to internet infrastructure and access, also within communities and families. In this context, we’re stressing the importance of a feminist internet that is safe for all.

In relation to the movements around women’s rights, gender and sexuality in which APC plays a role, we must sustain responsible, caring relations with one another and make sure resources are distributed within all the various existing networks.

Let’s rethink our ideas on sustainable development, with the environment and human health at the centre

The current pandemic has shown how individuals need access to devices for interacting, working and learning. Digital technologies can play a part in mitigating the impacts of climate change, as well as helping displaced and affected communities to adapt to the challenges that lie ahead.

Standardisation needs to be addressed, and plans for new technologies such as 5G networks need to be assessed for their health and environmental implications. Technology giants need to be accountable for the waste that is produced through the products they sell. 

We have an opportunity to strengthen inclusivity and connectedness in our movements

We believe the pandemic offers an opportunity not only to build on our history of connecting communities and movements, but also to find creative ways to organise ourselves, to exercise agency in the way we occupy digital spaces and use technologies, to foster dynamics of collective care and to reinforce our commitment to our struggle for a better world. 

Resources from the APC network

As a network that has members in over 73 countries, we’re channeling the strength of our network to share resources from different contexts and perspectives, always from a people-centred, human rights-based approach. We will be updating these lists on a regular basis.

You can find featured articles on the Closer than ever section of our website (also in Spanish and French) and a collection of useful resources from our community in this article in English and Spanish.

More information
  • Read the full position paper (also available in Spanish)

  • Follow updates and help us amplify the message on Twitter. We are @apc_news and are tweeting with #covid19 #closerthanever #humanrightsonline

  • Access our press section to stay updated on pressing news and other resources

  • For interviews, coverage and other press inquiries, contact Leila Nachawati, APC’s media outreach lead:

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