Listening to the inspiring words of the Secretary General today at the opening of the 67th UN Commission on the Status of Women, which he traveled from Doha to deliver in person, thinking about the previous speaker’s call for a bold and brief outcome, and then hearing statements from many of the collective organizations of member states, I hear much alignment going into this event. The member states that express most concern for families are sometimes regressive about women’s rights, but the statement today did not seem as fundamentally oppositional to the basic concepts of increasing women’s participation in information technology and artificial intelligence jobs and design fora, and ending the online violence against women in principle is generally accepted. So the boldness must come in the action steps.
Nobel Laureates Maria Ressa and Dimitry Muratov have already laid out a ten-point plan. I read it again in her recent publication, How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for our Future, (HarperCollins, 2022). As the driving force behind Rappler news in the Philippines, she has faced bogus criminal charges for her outspoken criticism of the government. Recently, she has won a case, but there are many others pending. She is a woman of outstanding courage, with a powerful call to all to stand up for our future by fighting the disinformation that is eroding democracy globally and strengthening autocracies that strive to control a single narrative that enables them to stay in power.
She, along with colleagues, gets at the root causes, which are an extractive profit seeking agenda, where our personal data is taken, packaged, and used against us in marketing. This kind of model driven by profit is destructive of truth, dialogue, airing of differences, any of the kinds of civil discourse that might be possible online, because it panders to the louder lies and click-bait.
The United Nations work is on overdrive this year, as we all know that the climate emergency is here now, and our global shift towards renewable energy and support for the most effected countries that created the lease green house gases, is woefully lagging. There is a strong push now, building on the dissatisfaction with the UNFCCC meeting that seems to cater now mostly to industry, followed by strong outcomes in the global biodiversity meeting, and now in the oceans treaty (BBNJ- Beyond the Boundaries of National Jurisdiction) which just achieved an outcome document after 15 years of effort amidst stalling.
Hopefully the CSW 67 can indeed be bold this year.
At the Temple of Understanding, we listen, ask questions and seek understanding. It is an easy task to promote the 10-point plan laid out by two magnificent Nobel Laureates who are insiders that know. At last year’s Service of Remembrance and Gratitude, a parallel event to the CSW, I spoke of the dangers facing reporters, and thus the dangers facing democracy.
This year, the news is even more grim: Amal Clooney, in her introduction to Maria’s book, writes
“Data gathered in the last few years shows that more journalists all over the world are being imprisoned and killed than at any time since records began. And there are, today, more autocracies in the world than there are democracies. ……. It is ironic that autocratic leaders are often called “strongmen” when, in fact, they cannot tolerate dissent or even allow a level playing field.”
During this CSW, where technology is the main theme with the exploration of its role in gender empowerment, member states and the NGOs advocating would do well to examine and adopt the 10-point plan that is ready for adoption. It is available in full online. There is no time to waste. Greed leading to toxic fake news that dwarfs the truth online threatens every aspect of our communal global life.
Please read these excerpts from the full plan, and then find it in its entirety online. Here’s to hoping for the boldest of outcomes from this year’s CSW, with thanks for the work and writing of Maria Ressa.
Many governments around the world have exploited these platforms’ greed to grab and consolidate power. That is why they also attack and muzzle the free press. Clearly, these governments cannot be trusted to address this crisis. But nor should we put our rights in the hands of technology companies’ intent on sustaining a broken business model that actively promotes disinformation, hate speech and abuse.
The resulting toxic information ecosystem is not inevitable. Those in power must do their part to build a world that puts human rights, dignity, and security first, including by safeguarding scientific and journalistic methods and tested knowledge. To build that world, we must:
Bring an end to the surveillance-for-profit business model
The invisible ‘editors’ of today’s information ecosystem are the opaque algorithms and recommender systems built by tech companies that track and target us. They amplify misogyny, racism, hate, junk science and disinformation – weaponizing every societal fault line with relentless surveillance to maximize “engagement”. This surveillance-for-profit business model is built on the con of our supposed consent. But forcing us to choose between allowing platforms and data brokers to feast on our personal data or being shut out from the benefits of the modern world is simply no choice at all. The vast machinery of corporate surveillance not only abuses our right to privacy, but allows our data to be used against us, undermining our freedoms and enabling discrimination.
This unethical business model must be reined in globally, including by bringing an end to surveillance advertising that people never asked for and of which they are often unaware. Europe has made a start, with the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts. Now these must be enforced in ways that compel platforms to de-risk their design, detox their algorithms and give users real control. Privacy and data rights, to date largely notional, must also be properly enforced. And advertisers must use their money and influence to protect their customers against a tech industry that is actively harming people…..
We, as Nobel Laureates, from across the world, send a united message: together we can end this corporate and technological assault on our lives and liberties, but we must act now. It is time to implement the solutions we already have to rebuild journalism and reclaim the technological architecture of global conversation for all humanity.
We call on all rights-respecting democratic governments to:
1. Require tech companies to carry out independent human rights impact assessments that must be made public as well as demand transparency on all aspects of their business – from content moderation to algorithm impacts to data processing to integrity policies.
2. Protect citizens’ right to privacy with robust data protection laws.
3. Publicly condemn abuses against the free press and journalists globally and commit funding and assistance to independent media and journalists under attack.
The plan goes on to outline specific action steps for the European Union and concludes with a call to the UN:
We call on the UN to:
10. Create a special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General focused on the Safety of Journalists (SESJ) who would challenge the current status quo and finally raise the cost of crimes against journalists.
This year at the Service of Remembrance we will again hold up the lives of journalists working in these dangerous times who all too often are paying the ultimate personal price. May we rebuild the structures of our information sharing to honor truth and the dignity and safety of those who dare to dissent towards a world that centers human rights and peace over greed and obsession with power.
By Grove Harris, M.Div.
Photo credit: Franz Lopez