Following Day 1 discussions on the regional digital rights landscape, Day 2 of the Asia-Pacific Digital Rights Forum focuses on strengthening regional solidarity through intersectoral collaboration and engagement of civil society with various stakeholders.
Opening Keynote: Building Regional Solidarity and Collaboration on Digital Rights
The opening keynote zeroed in on the value of connection among digital rights advocates. Over 60 participants attended the keynote, which was also made available live in Bahasa Indonesia, Burmese, Khmer, and Thai.
Solidarity and collaboration is necessary for digital rights organisations to make sense of the contexts they are operating in, said EngageMedia Executive Director Phet Sayo, who emphasised the need for collaborative sense-making. Key to this is dealing with interdisciplinarity and relying on partial perspectives and expertise of others in different disciplines. Sayo added that sense-making in the domain of human rights in the digital age is multi-faceted and is a shared effort.
Khin Ohmar, Founder of the Progressive Voice of Myanmar, shared the continuing struggle of the people of Myanmar in pushing back against the junta’s attempts to further curtail their human and digital rights nearly two years after the February 2021 coup. But this work cannot be done alone, and Ohmar stressed the need for the international community to support their struggle by amplifying updates from Myanmar and providing capacity support.
Across the Asia-Pacific, authoritarian governments have successfully imposed digital control, as seen in the case of Myanmar. But collective action is key to improving internet freedom, according to Brittany Piovesan, Chief of Party of Internews’ Greater Internet Freedom program. Speaking about the program’s work of network building, Piovesan shared how providing space for digital rights advocates to share their work openly with each other built mutual understanding and trust, laying the groundwork for co-learning and collaboration.
Breakout Session Highlights
The session on online media freedom looked at the impact of the pandemic on media freedom: journalists had to debunk disinformation amid limited access to reliable public information, while laws were becoming more securitised. On the role of journalists and activists in protecting online media freedom, speakers stressed the need to amp up public outreach and engagement.
Speakers on the “Challenging Big Tech” session emphasised the importance of encouraging civil society engagement in critical conversations to demand platform accountability and championing more rights-respecting alternative platforms. Speakers also called on digital rights advocates to support such platforms as ensuring human rights at the centre of technology can be costly undertakings.
The importance of media literacy and empowering the youth to think critically and engage in public affairs was emphasised in the session on youth engagement. Speakers stressed the need for the youth people to understand that the personal is political and to tap into the creativity of young people as a means of encouraging their active participation in digital rights issues.
During the session on digital labour, speakers noted the advantages and disadvantages of gig work: flexibility on one hand and lack of labour protections on the other. They also stressed the need for workers to seek solidarity, and to raise awareness among consumers about this issue.
The digital safety session provided an overview of the various security threats in the region, and the need for activists and rights defenders to support each other amid these shared challenges. Speakers also said that it was essential to understand how bad actors use technology to curtail people’s rights to respond accordingly.
Led by Asia Centre, the Open and Secure Technology focus group discussion aimed to scrutinise why the adoption and use of such technologies remains low. Participants shared that digital literacy plays a role, and that starting the discussion on using open and secure tools is a good first step.