30 Mar 2023 Launch of Digital Democracy Initiative for digital tech that supports human rights, democracy
The Digital Democracy Initiative (DDI) was launched on 28 March with a virtual event that explored how to amplify the voice of civil society in the digital age.
The DDI takes up the pledge of the Danish-led Tech for Democracy initiative “to make digital technologies work for, not against, democracy and human rights.” Denmark and the European Union are co-funding the program, with strong political support from Sweden.
“WACC signed up for this important step in international efforts to promote digital justice when it was first proposed last year,” said WACC General Secretary Philip Lee.
He highlighted the collaborative nature of the DDI, which brings together some 200 civil society organizations, companies, national governments, and academic institutions.
Protecting democracy in the digital age
At the launch, a panel of experts and activists looked at strategies to tackle the issues that civil society face on the digital front lines in the struggle for democracy and human rights.
Digital technologies play a central role in regard to democracy and human rights, noted Dan Jørgensen, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy.
“Great challenges call for an ambitious response,” he said and announced that Denmark would be committing more than 40 million Euros to protecting and promoting democracy in the digital age.
Jutta Urpilainen, European Union Commissioner for International Partnerships, observed that the Digital Democracy Initiative — to which the EU is contributing 11 million Euros — would build the resilience of local civil society.
“Equality of access is an important dimension, together with inclusivity, accountability, and empowerment,” she said.
Helen Eduards, director-general for International Development of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, underlined that the struggle for democracy and human rights on the Internet was more important than ever before.
Challenges for civil society
Civil society is the most important organ of any democracy, Moderator Brett Solomon from Access Now observed.
“Today, that means civil society online,” he said. “In a context where many Internet shutdowns — 187 in 35 countries in 2022 — are connected with protests or the right to protest, the deliberate disabling of civil society is a huge threat to democracy.”
Mouna Ben Garga, Innovation for Change lead at CIVICUS, recalled how digital threats had been translating into physical threats to individuals and communities. She also lifted up the issue of accountability in the long chain of actors from digital providers to users, which she said multiplied the problems to be addressed.
Xeenarh Mohammed, Anglophone Africa regional project Manager at Digital Defenders Partnership, highlighted the importance of ensuring that tools and practices are widely shared. Calling for flexibility and relevance, she said the DDI needed to guarantee diversity of funding for frontline and grassroots groups, especially youth, and not only support high-level interventions.
Brian Malika, founder of One More Percent, noted the dichotomy of public calls for accountability and potential harm to human rights defenders as a result of using digital technologies. “There is a need to consolidate voices and to ally with likeminded groups,” he said.
WACC and digital communication rights
Reflecting on the launch event, Lee stressed the role of multilateral initiatives like the DDI to ensure that local communities are not left behind in our rapidly digitalizing world.
“WACC believes that digital tools must be developed and promoted in such a way that often-excluded communities can have greater participation. We call on governments to implement public policies that achieve greater equity and inclusion.”
WACC offers a space and resources for practitioners, academics, media, and other partners to reflect critically on fundamental issues of digital communication rights such as accessibility, affordability, accountability, participation, equality and equity, diversity, and connectedness.
Read more about WACC’s focus on digital justice and find tools for action.