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Alumni members accross the world
This map shows alumni members accross the world. How many come from your country?
This map shows alumni members accross the world. How many come from your country?
As Internet governance (IG) grows increasingly important on international agendas, institutional coordination of the multistakeholder process is emerging as an important factor for successful IG outcomes.
Violations of human rights in the context of the response to COVID-19 are increasingly making the headlines. The right to access information, right to privacy, freedom of movement and assembly, and freedom of expression are some of the basic rights that are being affected by nationwide lockdowns and emergency measures.
Given the importance and timeliness of discussions surrounding these topics, Diplo’s ConfTech Lab organised the third in a series of web discussions on ‘Technology and human rights in times of crisis’. With more than 130 participants, the discussion was enriched with valuable inputs from Ms Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations in Geneva and President of the Human Rights Council), Mr Marc Limon (Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group), Ms Nanjira Sambuli (Researcher, Policy Analyst, and Advocacy Strategist), Mr Peter Micek (General Counsel at Access Now), and Mr Scott Campbell (Senior Human Rights and Technology Officer of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights).
What world will we live in once the crisis is over?
In the keynote address, Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger pointed out that when given a choice between health and privacy, people will certainly choose health.
In the context of COVID-19, Amb. Tichy-Fisslberger also referred to the right to education that is being threatened as a result of the transition online, which, in turn, is widening the digital divide even in developed countries like Austria. Children, in particular those living in poorer conditions or with an immigration background, may not be able to participate in this new educational environment on equal terms if they lack access to Internet and appropriate technological equipment. She noted that other risks brought about by the crisis are posed by social networks that are being misused as a way of discriminating against and generalising those infected by COVID-19. Amb. Tichy-Fisslberger asked participants to, as an immediate step, to provide her with ideas and suggestions that she can convey to the UN Human Rights Council and, in the longer term, to start reflecting on human rights and our society once the crisis is over.
Privacy leads the discussion
In a poll among participants, the right to privacy was voted as the human right most affected by the current crisis. While there might be concern over privacy, most speakers agreed that the majority of individuals give precedence to their right to health and security over the former. Nevertheless, discussants stressed that the right to privacy matters as much as the right to health and that it is our responsibility to communicate this message clearly.
Special attention was paid to the practical use of healthcare data during the ongoing pandemic, with arguments raised that due consideration needs to be given to the duration authorities should be allowed to collect and process private data. To that end, it was emphasised that any surveillance measures need to be lawful, necessary, and proportionate.
Speaking and criticising freely at times of crisis
As the crisis unravels, we are witnessing a growing number of public cases of the suppression of the freedom of expression. Examples of journalists being reproached for asking provocative questions and criticising government activities and measures in combating COVID-19 were cited.
Digital divides are no longer between the north and south
Similarly to what Amb. Tichy-Fisslberger discussed in her opening remarks, discussants touched upon the implications of the crisis on the digital divide between those who are connected and those who are unconnected, as well as among the connected group. The example of such divides in Kenya - where people were obliged to transition online (e.g. go cashless) as a preventive measure to the pandemic was highlighted. It was noted that digital divides are under discussed and do not feature as the main topic of discussion unless referred to in the context of access.
Mechanisms for tangible measures
Speaking on the engagement of the tech industry with the international community in times of crisis such as COVID-19, discussants noted that tech companies are increasingly interested in being active actors. It was emphasised that in the long run, companies should commit to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and apply them in their products. Moreover, the UN Human Rights Council should include tech companies in its work and governments need to work closely together with the private sector and the civil society on implementing measures that abide by these principles.
In this regard, trust in institutions, as well as a need in ensuring that the products and services developed by the private sector have effective security and data protection measures embedded within them was underscored.
The coronavirus has been credited with catalysing a shift from a self-centred ‘I’ society to another-centred ‘we’ society. The focus on individual well-being and material wealth that has shaped many people’s identity and aspirations for the last half century or more has now turned into a concern for morality and the benefits of caring, sharing, and community building.
In this blog I show how a particular rhetorical device known as antithesis, in which opposing forces are balanced against each other, can prove very persuasive. But I also caution against the reductive thinking that often comes with this kind of framing. At a time of draconian constraints on our liberties, we remain not only free – but duty-bound to evaluate our situation and how best to respond to it.
As we have witnessed on social media recently, the recent emphasis on the common good has given rise to many edifying outpourings of song, offers of help, and expressions of love. It has also resulted in governments adopting unprecedented measures to save lives, secure jobs, and sustain communities. Medics and care-workers above all have demonstrated a heroic willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
Provided that we all pull together, all will be well in the end. That is the encouraging – and necessary – message of this crisis. ‘Necessary’ because it is a viral crisis, requiring compliance and collaboration if there is to be a constructive resolution. Epidemiological modelling tells us that dissent will be our undoing.
However, the re-framing involved in this shift from individualism to collectivism should not be accepted unthinkingly. We should not be seduced into a reductive black and white bias, especially if this involves equating individualism with ‘bad’ and collectivism with ‘good’. Individualism is not another word for selfishness, nor are all aspects of collectivism beneficial in and of themselves. The pros and cons of any particular way of framing a situation have to be evaluated on their own merits.
Nor does a change in the dominant narrative disqualify alternative accounts. Some of us may have been too selfish some of the time, or too materialistic much of the time, but this does not mean that we have always been uncaring and ungiving. We have not suddenly shed the chrysalis of individualism to join a collective of sun-kissed butterflies.
Polarities are useful for rousing solidarity, as we can see from the so-called ‘prayer of Saint Francis’:
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
We also witness the power of opposing forces in the BBC Radio London prayer that has gone viral on social media recently, which includes the lines:
So we pray and we remember that yes, there is fear, but there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation, but there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is panic buying but there does not have to be meanness. Yes there is sickness, but there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death, but there can always be a rebirth of love.
One and the same rhetorical device has been used to promote opposing ideologies. The first quote was cited by Margaret Thatcher when she first came into office, inaugurating an era of heightened individualism (Thatcher is famous for having said ‘And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.’). The second quote is circulating as an appeal to heightened collectivism.
Possibly the most apt expression of this kind of counterbalance is JF Kennedy’s chiasmus ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’
Rousing rhetoric should never obscure the full spectrum of individual differences that exists between the polarities being presented. We have all had to juggle our own inclinations with the demands of others, to balance our own aspirations with our concern for others. It is precisely these choices and compromises that in large part determine who we are. If my neighbour is inclined to hoard and I am inclined to give, neither of us is necessarily right or wrong, we are just being true to ourselves. The same holds for the wife who, after a period of self-isolation, returns to her work as a doctor while her husband, anxious for the family, opposes her choice.
These individual differences explain why one person’s ‘stock-piling’ is probably another’s ‘safety-measure’, one person’s ‘public-mindedness’ is possibly another’s ‘selfishness’, and today’s ‘necessary hard measures’ are potentially tomorrow’s ‘soft authoritarianism’. Even our own inclinations and decisions may change in emphasis from day to day in the light of our self-reflection and re-evaluations.
What this crisis has brought out in stark relief for me is the importance of a considered life. What are the choices we have made, why, under what constraints, and with what expectations? What are the – possibly very different – choices we are now making? Why? Not long ago, hugs, kisses, closeness, and conviviality used to be the currency of love and friendship around the world, yet on Mother’s Day in the UK (22 March 2020) the country was told that staying away and not visiting our mothers is the best expression of our love.
Socrates said ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ Here again we see the power – and the peril – of antithetical rhetoric. An unexamined is first of all very unlikely, and when on occasions we do go along with what is, unquestioningly, we may do so for good reasons. It may be an individual choice, a temporary necessity, or even a decree from the powers that be. The imperative of an examined life is that we should not stop thinking for ourselves, and choosing accordingly, always with an eye on changing constraints and expectations.
This blog therefore is a defence of self-determination, not selfishness. It is an appeal for the protection and promotion of individuality in all its diversity, not the dichotomisation of behaviour as good or bad. Above all, it is a call for the examined life, where we remain free to re-evaluate the balance between self and other in the light of our own conscience and with regard for the changing dynamics of the situation.
Dr Biljana Scott, the author of this posting, developed and lectures on Diplo's Language and Diplomacy course. In this course you can learn more about many of the topics discussed in this post, for example framing and reframing, as well as linguistic devices to develop a persuasive argument.