Welcome to the Digital Justice Lab

Logo created by @nomadic_labs

You know, most people don’t know this but as a kid I wasn’t really interested in technology. Don’t get me wrong I was on MSN all the time after school and would get lost playing games, but I was never really interested in building technology or working with it. But even as a kid, I knew my obsession with what we know as the internet would impact me. To be completely honest younger me was right, the internet did have an impact on me, on my relationships, on the information I had access to and the communities I built. It wasn’t all rosy. I remember getting hacked in 7th grade, I shared my password with a friend and she deleted all of my friends on my account.

It was an important moment in my life but I didn’t realize it until much later. I changed my password of course — from “dadmom123” to something a bit stronger — and oddly enough didn’t end the friendship till years later because the invasion of privacy on a digital platform almost seemed normal to me? Of course I was embarrassed but as a kid I saw the embarrassment as something distant from my physical reality.

My relationship with technology continued to operate in various ways, from building personal relationships to research for school. I wasn’t interested in building or being a part of the technology space until after my employment at a healthcare tech start-up that I stumbled upon years ago (a story for another day) . Discovering the intersection between technology and the fight for justice didn’t happen until 4 years ago when I went to Detroit for the beautiful Allied Media Conference. The conversations and people I met 4 years ago have helped shape my foundational understanding of the digital space, and showed me how social justice played a direct role in how we imagine digital futures.

Because guess what?

The connection between technology and our fight for justice and equity is becoming clearer every single day. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to separate our digital life from our physical life. From the devices we use to communicate with one another, to the cameras on public streets and the ways we access public service. In many ways the systemic inequalities we see in our physical world, from racism to income inequality are replicated in digital tools and in many ways excaperated.

How does it play out?

These are only a few of many stories about the impact of technology in our lives within the land we now know as Canada.

The Term Digital Justice

The first time I heard the term “Digital Justice” was at the wonderful Allied Media Conference in Detroit in 2014. The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition is comprised of people and organizations in Detroit who believe that communication is a fundamental human right. In collaboration with their members they created a vision of “Digital Justice” and built core principles. The principles they worked on together have become a guiding light for me and how I do my work.

What does Digital Justice mean for us here in Canada?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to explore that with you all. Our vision of Digital Justice should be a collective exercise done both nationally and locally. We know the status quo isn’t working for us, so let’s map out alternative futures for ourselves and our communities. I called this organization the Digital Justice Lab, because I believe it is important for us to navigate the ways digital technologies impact our lives together, and to work together to build a more just and equitable future. The “Lab” is intentional, this is a place of experimentation and opportunity for us to learn together, mess up together, and build capacity together.

This isn’t new

We are a new organization, but the fight for digital rights isn’t new here in Canada.

Wonderful organizations have been fighting back, keeping us aware, and building capacity. Please check out a few of them below:

I have highlighted nationally focused organizations, but there are also a number of people and organizations doing the work locally. Maybe it’s time for us to start a list?

We are one organization within a larger ecosystem of amazing activists, advocates, academics and technologists who have been working towards a more just digital future. The Digital Justice Lab is a place for collaboration, an opportunity to uplift voices and connect with the current ecosystem of digital rights activism.

Our Mission as an Organization

The Digital Justice Lab is a national organization that engages and collaborates with diverse communities to build alternative digital futures. We work alongside technologists, community activists, and policymakers to shape a better understanding of technology and its impact on communities across the country. Through technology capacity building we support diverse communities in making informed decisions around digital issues, helping build a more just and equitable society here in Canada.

How will we do this work?

Our Pathway

At the Digital Justice Lab, we organize our work around three pillars. Every pillar is an important piece supporting the process of moving towards a more just and equitable digital society.

  1. We engage and collaborate with communities through public knowledge building, campaigns, and public art. We will make language and concepts accessible and relatable to the larger public.
  2. We build the knowledge capacity of nonprofits, governments and grassroots organizations to navigate digital issues through training, strategy building and collective impact
  3. We apply the knowledge shared by communities to collaborative policymaking processes and legal intervention

Who is running it?

Me! My name is Nasma Ahmed, I am currently an Open Web Fellow with the Ford-Mozilla Foundation. I will be transitioning from my fellowship to becoming the founding Director of the Digital Justice Lab. Most of my work has been within the intersection of technology, social justice and policy. This is an opportunity to merge all the work I have done with others into one place.

I also have an amazing crew of advisors who are supporting this work:

Bianca Wylie, Ellie Marshall, Simona Ramkisson, Lorraine Chuen, Meghan Hellstern, Lex Gill, and Andrew Do.

Where will you be based?

I am happy to share that we will to co-locate our work at the Atkinson Foundation office at 1 Yonge Street in Toronto. This work will be national, but our physical space will be in Toronto.

The First Project Summer 2018

The Digital Justice Lab will work with community partners across Toronto to build Digital Justice values and principles. The creation of a starting point living document will help spark conversations about the digital issues that impact communities across the city. It will be an opportunity to support communities in navigating and defining the digital justice values that are important to them. This project is inspired by the work of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, City of Oakland, European Union and City of New York initiatives on these issues. Building a living document will be the first step of many as we build towards a more just and equitable digital society here in Toronto.

More about this project will be announced in the coming weeks.

Let’s Collaborate

The Digital Justice Lab is an experimental space. e. We want to collaborate on projects around digital issues such as privacy, access and equity across the country.

Research? Strategy? Training? Collective Impact? Public Art Programs?

Let’s explore it together.

Want to connect?

Send us an email hello@digitaljusticelab.ca or email me nasma@digitaljusticelab.ca

If you want to sign up for updates *we promise to only email you twice a month* please sign up for our mailing list here.

Thank you Bianca and Simona for editing this letter :)

Thank you for being on this journey with us, I want to say a massive thank you to my advisors and all the people in my life who have been an inspiration. I am who I am because of the community of people around me that continue to ground me, teach me and support me.

I can’t wait to build this organization up with love and gratitude.

-Nasma Ahmed