Fundamental Rights, New (Social) Media, and The Digital Divide

March 20, 2013 · Posted in Digital Divide, Human Rights, ICT, Legislation 

Right to Information → Right to Internet Access → Right to Social Media?

New technology brings new challenges. The organizational usage of internet impacts on traditional information management and hence gives rise to new issues and questions. Usage of internet is more and more intertwined with a discussion of human rights where its usage and distribution, if not used right, can diminish the protection of human rights. To these obstacles we are counting: adequacy of information infrastructure in the developing world, information overload, the extent to which the English language are dominating the internet, the level of literacy and information technology literacy, and on top of this comes also the severe issue of control, censorship and regulation (Brophy & Halpin 1999, p. 351).

Right to Information and Right to Internet Access
In a development context; the Internet, information and its realizing technology  have fashioned a new phenomenon in development cooperation; the divide between the developed and the developing world is being enlarged (Hemer & Tufte 2005, p. 15). Over the last decades more diverse sources of online information and tools have been made accessible to more people than ever before. This has made more people rightfully or wrongfully optimistic that new media technologies and its application will be available for everyone (Lievrow 2011, p. 12). Maybe the digital divide between geographic areas and between social groups need to be widened and strengthened before a more inclusive distribution will be able to take place?

Arguably, there are many ways to improve current trends in dealing with information. According to Webster, there is a big difference in being informed and having the information. Occurrences such as brainpower and ability of judgment are not solely depending on a substantial supply of information (Webster 2006, p. 28). The digital divide, information as knowledge and information as process also relates to the aspect of issues such as non-discrimination debates, women empowerment, political and social participation, peace and development. The comprehensiveness of how rights can be diminished by the tools of free information need to be understood and fought. We are then talking about fundamental human rights that according to international treaties that all human beings are entitled to. It is not only the access information and even internet that need to be inclusive but also the understanding of the rights and an ability to recognize when those rights are being marginalized (Jörgensen 2006, 3-4).  These questions have in policy debates and research been fairly absent and need therefore to be represented on another dimension than what previously have been done.

Using Social Media as a Tool for Development
At the cross road of said digital advancements is traditional media and the printed word. Does recent development necessarily mean that the traditional media are check mate? Mansell proves to the contrary, by stating that: ”One of the key findings of recent research on the way digital technologies and the Internet are mediating our lives is that offline conventions and practices do not diminish in importance in the face of new cyberspace developments.” (Klang & Murray 2005, p. 3) With this said, the printed word and traditional flow of information does not need to lose its importance when the information is interpreted and transformed into a new context. Although we cannot ignore the current shift in public demands that are moving away from news and investigative journalism to more lifestyle centered demands (Lievrouw 2011, p. 122). Traditionalist ways have been a standard in printed media where little research has been put on change and development. In the past, papers have treated their websites as a negative distraction from their core business, which meant saving their best journalists and reportages for printed purposes. We see here an industry that need to change to keep up with the social media revolution, otherwise distrust in the traditional way of gaining up-to-date information will keep growing (Lievrouw 2011, p. 122-123). The attitude that needs to change for traditional media to keep up is what Leah Lievrouw calls a “gatekeeping editorial model”, which entails “we publish and you read” (Lievrouw 2011, p. 124). Twenty first-century Web 2.0 links the power of global information search and retrieval with the personal involvement, interaction and collaborative creativity. This is where social media has its most advantageous position towards developing countries. It has the ability, more than any phenomenon before, to teach the audience to be critical and to participate. Hopefully in the long run, this will counteract violations of information rights and in turn will assist to perform the shift of the media practices of the developed from exclusion to having information and then to being informed.


One Response to “Fundamental Rights, New (Social) Media, and The Digital Divide”

  1. Mallory de Blois on March 24th, 2013 4:41 pm

    A very interesting essay which brings to light the many issues related to internet access which are not adequately addressed by the relevant authorities.

    Lievrouw (2011, p.12) has a point in saying that many of us are overly optimistic about global internet access – in a sense, it is unrealistic to say that it is a fundamental right (even if it is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!), as this is not a priority if we consider how few people have access to basic medical care, food, water etc.

    You mention that according to Webster, there is a big difference in being informed and having the information. The question is what do people do when they have access to ICTs or various kinds of information? To this end, in his TED talk (visible on my blog) Evgeny Morozov amusingly says “when we get the remote Russian village online, what will get people to the Internet is not going to be reports from Human Rights Watch. It’s going to be pornography, ‘Sex and the City,’ or maybe funny videos of cats.”

    Loving and Zehle (2005, p.19) say that suddenly technology becomes a development shortcut even though this flies in the face of obvious constraints. Some discussions argue that connectivity should be addressed not as a technological fix but as part of a capabilities approach and in terms of social capabilities.

    You also mention that traditional media is not replaced by new media and that there is a necessity to combine both – Cammaerts (2007, p 220) also emphasizes that activism cannot be confined to the media realm that establishing trust, collaboration and direct contact is vitally important. Mainstream media reaches more people and is often a more credible source.

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