Discussions about the internet tend to focus on the future: new technologies, emerging threats, untapped opportunities. Twenty years of existence does not make the Wikimedia movement immune to the fascination with technology and its promise of progress. Take the present moment as an example, and its discussions about the risks and potential of generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT. But there is also much to gain from slowing down and asking: What kind of digital future do we want? How do we make sure that human rights are respected by new technologies? RightsCon’23 provides a civil society-led space where stakeholders of all kinds can come together to discuss the present in order to understand how to build that shared future.
This conference, hosted by Access Now, brings together activists, artists, technologists, business leaders, policymakers, journalists, and more to discuss human rights in the digital age. RightsCon’23 will be the first hybrid version of the event, taking place both online and in-person in San José, Costa Rica, from 5–8 June 2023. Wikimedians will host and/or participate in five sessions. Their contributions to RightsCon emphasize the importance of the free knowledge movement in the larger online information ecosystem: Information is power, and access—or lack thereof—is often used as a tool for control by those in power.
The Wikimedian sessions at RightsCon’23 illustrate how vital the work of the movement is not only to developing online technology and spaces that enable access and participation in free knowledge, but also to using these to achieve sociotechnical goals—whether helping a country remember and prevent a violent history, learning about labor issues from the perspectives of Black and Indigenous peoples, or uplifting decentralized technologies as tools to carve out civic spaces online.
Similarly to last year’s overview of Wikimedian sessions at RightsCon’22, below is a summary of the sessions with Wikimedian participation this year. If you’re interested in these sessions and the wider RightsCon program, you can register for free until 2 June 2023. We hope to see you there!
Please note that session dates and times might be subject to change. For up-to-date information on session details, please check the RightsCon program, which opened its Summit Platform on 22 May so that registered participants can create their own personalized schedule.
What We Talk about When We Talk about Free Knowledge: Wikimedia Strategies for Advocacy
Date & Time: 6 June @ 13:45–14:45 UTC
Presenters: Eric Luth (Wikimedia Sweden), Patricia Díaz Rubio (Wikimedia Chile), Luisina Ferrante (Wikimedia Argentina), Anna Torres (Wikimedia Argentina), and Douglas Scott (Wikimedia South Africa)
Details: Wikipedia and the Wikimedia platforms provide access to information to billions of people worldwide. Our movement collaborates with UN bodies, government agencies, and international organizations across the world to share vital information with the public. Yet at the same time, new platform regulations and internet governance decisions are designed without consideration of how they might impact Wikimedia platforms, with its collaborative practices and user-generated content. As a result, Wikimedians have had to develop advocacy strategies for getting a seat at the negotiating table, and make sure that lawmakers and other stakeholders listen to the movement’s needs. In this workshop, Wikimedians from various continents and countries will discuss how the Wikimedia platforms and other user-generated online platforms are affected by national and international regulations and policies, as well as how to defend and advance the rights of users on the internet.
Shall We Forget? Open-Source Platforms as Tools for Memory, Truth, and Reconciliation
(In the Tech in Situations of Conflict and Crisis session)
Date & Time: 6 June @ 17:30–18:30 UTC
Format: Lightning Talk
Presenter: Valentina Vera-Quiroz (Wikimedia Foundation)
Details: Conflict-related violence in Colombia has taken new forms since the Peace Agreement was signed in 2016 between the government and the largest rebel group. There has been an increase in online takedown requests from parties involved in the conflict to online platforms demanding that their armed conflict-related information be deleted. Today, information about these crimes would not exist if open-source platforms had not documented them, building and keeping records about the crimes that make for one of the most painful episodes of Colombia’s conflict. This talk will discuss how open-source platforms can give a voice to those whose marginalization has denied them the opportunity to tell their stories, and how victims can use these platforms as tools to fight against those who deny the occurrence of past atrocities. Remembering as an activity can increase awareness of human rights abuses and enhance actions to redress wrongdoings, while open-source technologies help us create a record of history, and ensure that what happened in the past can be remembered.
You can learn more about this topic in a Medium blog post that Valentina recently published.
Latin American Challenges of Accessing, Producing, and Circulating Knowledge of Black and Indigenous Populations Online
Date & Time: 6 June @ 22:30–23:30 UTC
Presenters: Ivonne Gonzalez (Ennegreciendo Wikipedia), Amalia Toledo (Wikimedia Foundation), Stephanie Lima (InternetLab), and Epsy Campbell Barr (former Vice President of Costa Rica and President of UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent)
Details: The challenges faced by historically marginalized populations to access, produce, and circulate knowledge online are not comprehended enough in Latin America. At the same time, the knowledge produced by Black and Indigenous people provides a broader understanding of society as a whole, and not just the specificities of these communities. This session contributes to a deeper understanding of these inequalities and how they have been narrowed with the experience of three focus topics at RightsCon’23: gender justice, labor, and the environment. The session will open with short prompts from the speakers, after which the participants will be separated into groups to reflect. Questions to explore include:
- How is more information about and from women, specially those with Black and Indigenous backgrounds, important to gender and sexuality topics?
- How is more information from the perspective of these communities important to understand labor issues?
- How does this knowledge help us understand and advance climate and environmental justice issues?
All in the Room? Interrogating the Authority Control Construct in Wikipedia
(In the Internet Shutdowns and Access to Information: Perspectives from Africa session)
Date & Time: 7 June @ 13:45–14:45 UTC
Format: Lightning Talk
Presenter: Dr. Nkem Osuigwe (African Libraries & Information Associations and Institutions [AfLIA])
Details: How we categorize knowledge in physical spaces like libraries is flawed to the detriment of the visibility, inclusion, and equity of knowledge from Africa. Those flaws are now bumped into digital spaces. Information classification schemes that librarians use internationally provide a shared system to produce, process, and retrieve information. This classification scheme shows up as the ‘Authority control’ construct in Wikipedia and Wikidata. Yet these categorizations are tilted towards knowledge from the global North and suppress knowledge from the global South. The ontology of the controlled vocabularies and how they inequitably group and categorize knowledge from and about Africa must be interrogated, for they underpin the organization of knowledge and can hinder/promote visibility and inclusion/equity online. Is this possibly ‘epistemicide? Finding solutions to this, and possibly charting pathways to equitable and inclusive classifications of knowledge so that our stories, histories, and realities are more visible in online spaces, is the core reason behind this session.
Getting the Laws in Check: Policymakers Push for Defending Digital Rights in Southeast Asia
Date & Time: 7 June @ 22:30–23:30 UTC
Presenters: Amalia Toledo (Wikimedia Foundation), Seema Chishti (Access Now), ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR])
Details: Across the Asia and Pacific region, elected lawmakers in national parliaments are increasingly required to engage with digital rights issues, as these digital aspects become a core part of all human rights discussions. Their actions set the context in which government executive officials operate, of the laws that countries adopt, and the policy consensus their governments forge. However, there is relatively little public discussion and engagement with the context, tools, and challenges these lawmakers face in major Asia-Pacific democracies. This session provides a cross-country, cross-region forum for lawmakers engaged with pressing digital rights conversations. This is a joint session between the Wikimedia Foundation, Access Now, and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) with speakers from Access Now, Members of Parliament (MPs) from Malaysia and Thailand, and the Foundation as well. This session offers a conversation with the MPs on policy in South East Asia and how we can learn from other regions—i.e., Latin America and the Caribbean—to create a better environment for freedom of expression and free knowledge in the Asia Pacific region.
Encyclopedia of War: Addressing and Mitigating Risks to Wikimedia Community During the War in Ukraine
Date & Time: 8 June @ 10:45–11:45 UTC
Presenters: Cameran Ashraf (Wikimedia Foundation), Sanda Sandu (Wikimedia Foundation), Max Fischer (Wikimedia Foundation)
Details: The war in Ukraine has many fronts—some more visible than others. On Wikimedia projects, Wikipedia is the largest and most well-known, volunteers are working tirelessly to keep the information neutral, verifiable and up to date—often to great challenges to themselves. Using the war in Ukraine as a case study, the session will explore some of the challenges faced by the Wikimedia community in times of conflict and when contributing from jurisdictions where freedom of expression is restricted and the environment is otherwise unfavorable to free knowledge. The session will be formatted as a community brainstorming and sharing session: participants will learn about the risks that Wikipedia faces, and together we will discuss and identify threats from different perspectives along with methods to respond and mitigate them.
Co-creating the Online Spaces We Want in a (Fe)Diverse and Decentralized Internet
Date & Time: 8 June @ 15:00–16:00 UTC
Presenters: Amalia Toledo (Wikimedia Foundation), Javier Pallero (Access Now), and Marlena Wisniak (European Center for Not-For-Profit Law [ENCL])
Details: Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter coincided with a renewed interest in decentralized social media platforms. This session will explore the challenges and opportunities of the ‘fediverse’ as well as emerging technologies such as Web3. These decentralized technology systems have been celebrated and spotlighted as a model for co-creation, distributed governance and shared ownership, thereby claiming to achieve the collective promise of an open internet while bypassing harms stemming from Big Tech. Yet can Web3 truly function as a decentralized system and advance public interest, in a world built around centralized power, money and influence? Can the Fediverse provide an opening for activists in a world with shrinking civic spaces? How would these alternative forms of social media be regulated? Civil society, especially members or marginalized groups, including those outside the US and Western Europe, have a real opportunity today to redefine how platforms should operate and how content could be moderated—we need to seize it. Experts from various sectors will share their perspectives, so that participants can collectively engage in an interactive workshop to shape the alternative futures we want.
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