Diversity in internet freedom: higher standards for all

Participants join the 2017 Internet Freedom Festival from all over the world. Map courtesy of the Internet Freedom Festival

This year’s Internet Freedom Festival brings together more than 1200 people from 114 countries to discuss, collaborate, and find new ways to ensure that the internet stays free, open and safe for everyone.

Achieving such lofty goals requires a profound understanding of challenges on the ground, whether it is about phishing attempts in Egypt, infrastructural devastation in Syria, or online harassment of women in Pakistan. Knowing the context, how people access, use and make sense of the internet and the opportunities it offers, is key to ensuring that the internet indeed stays free, open and safe, especially for those who are attacked by the state, marginalised in their own communities, or otherwise unable to make their voices heard.

Through its Diversity and Inclusion Fund, the Internet Freedom Festival works hard to ensure that it gives voice to under-represented groups and affords them a larger presence within the internet freedom community. It does this by giving them the means to attend the Festival and take part in the global conversation hosted there.

International Media Support (IMS) is very proud to support those efforts by providing a contribution to the Fund this year. IMS has worked with local media and human rights groups for over 15 years in some of the world’s most trying contexts, including humanitarian radio stations in Somalia to media activists in Syria, and journalist safety response teams in Afghanistan. For all of them, the internet is a lifeline in their tireless efforts to save lives and bring about positive change in some of the world’s most repressive countries.

IMS supports the Diversity and Inclusion Fund not only because it helps give a voice to groups like our partners, but also because we believe that for internet policy and practice development to be legitimate, it must build on a proper cross-section of the societies it affects. Without proper representation of those affected, the internet freedom and internet governance communities risk becoming detached from the people they are meant to serve.

At the same time, we believe that enhancing diversity helps set higher standards for everyone. The idea that increasing diversity somehow requires “lower standards” or “charitable handouts”, is fundamentally wrong. To IMS, diversity means exactly the opposite. It implies higher standards for the usual suspects who dominate decision making processes, who have more influence than their skills and efforts necessarily should provide for. In very simple terms, it implies that influence and money stops going to less qualified individuals and their organisations because their names sound male and white. We believe that fair treatment and equal opportunities based on skills and experience will mean higher standards and less handouts for all. We hope to contribute towards setting such high standards through our support to the Diversity and Inclusion Fund.

IMS is co-organising two sessions at this year’s Internet Freedom Festival. The first one with our partner organisation, Afghan Journalist’s Safety Committee, which looks at our joint work to improve the safety situation for journalists in Afghanistan through a wide range of mitigating and responsive measures. The second session is organised with our friends from Digital Society Zimbabwe, and looks at how we can improve the uptake of digital security tools by taking a critical look at how we communicate about digital security.

If you’re in Valencia, we look forward to seeing you there!