Human Rights Practice in the Digital Age Workshop

On 27 March 2017, the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project co-hosted a one-day workshop with the Centre of Governance & Human Rights at the University of Cambridge entitled “Human Rights Practice in the Digital Age”. The goal was to bring together both academics and practitioners to present papers tackling some of the crucial questions in this area – both in terms of opportunity and risk.

The catalyst for the workshop came from a prior collaborative project – DatNav, a practical guide for human rights practitioners on how to navigate digital data for human rights research. Ella McPherson and Sam Dubberley – the organisers of the workshop – both contributed to the writing of DatNav and wanted to feed some of the learnings of the practical guide into academic discussion.

Workshop attendees heard 15 papers that approached the topic of human rights in the digital world from very different angles. Computer scientists, legal scholars, sociologists and practitioners all presented varied papers for discussion, covering topics ranging from experiences in North Korea to internet shut downs across Africa to teaching students in open source investigation techniques. Discussion focussed around the opportunities that the digital age provides in the human rights sphere in terms of innovations in human rights fact-finding, and representing and advocating for human rights. Challenges were also discussed, such as clashes between new technologies and existing practices, and risks of human rights practice in the digital age.

From the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, four papers from across the Project were presented. Steve Zimmerman spoke of his research on online hate speech, Grigorios Kalliatakis presented his work with Klaus McDonald-Maier on automating the detection of human rights violations through online imagery, Baekkwan Park showcased his work on sentiment analysis to explore information effects in human rights reporting and Haluk Mert Bal presented his work with Sam Dubberley on the risk of traumatisation for human rights investigators studying violations through social media images.

The workshop is now working towards producing a journal special issue and giving all participants the opportunity to publish their papers as part of the Centre for Governance & Human Rights practitioner series.