Irrepressible Voices: A New Human Rights Video Website

In recent years, few major catastrophes have taken place without being captured through video, pictures, or tweets by ordinary citizens. Citizen journalists have reported on everything from the civil war in Syria, to natural disasters such as the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, to incidents of police brutality at Occupy protests.

This kind of raw documentation brings new complexity to the information landscape. It has created new avenues for news dissemination, and as more mainstream media outlets include citizen media in their reporting, it has changed and enhanced their coverage. However, there still is a gap between the mainstream media, with their large audiences, and these citizen journalists that must be bridged.

The newly launched project Irrepressible Voices (IV) aims to fill this gap by creating a platform that will connect online activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists with the mainstream media as well as with policy and decision makers.

Irrepressible Voices will focus explicitly on human rights. Users from all over the world are invited to securely upload their videos to the Irrepressible Voices platform. After content is uploaded to the platform, the IV team will verify the video’s content, discuss the problems depicted, and identify ways to advocate on the issue in question. This final step will often involve work with other NGOs working in this area. While the community interacts on the platform, IV will connect them with experts from partner institutions.

This short video provides a first impression of the topics that Irrepressible Voices wants to cover:

Irrepressible Voices came into being a year ago during the 5th Initiative on Human Rights and Internet by the Internet & Society Collaboratory. Bloggers from around the world were asked to send their video responses on how the Internet helps to enforce human rights.

The response confirmed the need for people to broadcast their living environment and realities. The Berlin-based Irrepressible Voices team (journalist and social entrepreneur Isabel Gahren, human rights expert Linda Walter, and Eike Leonhardt, a scientist at the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics) started Irrepressible Voices with the support of Futurechallenges.org and Internet & Society Collaboratory.

IV’s partners and media collaborators will help to reach an international audience and thereby increase awareness of their causes. Irrepressible Voices is already collaborating with Reporters without Borders Germany, Futurechallenges.org, Witness.org, Co:llaboratory, Social Impact Lab, and Sourcefabric.

The Irrepressible Voices website is still in its beta phase, but there are already some videos on the platform. The video above was produced in cooperation with Future Challenges and it shows how important the Internet is when it comes to human rights violations. Citizens from all over the world can raise awareness for their causes and make their voices heard.

This post has originally been published on Global Voices Advocacy.

Irrepressiblevoices.org and Freedom on the Internet


irrepressiblevoices logo

Over the past few months a worldwide protest movement has arisen with the aim of stopping various planned legislative moves for tighter regulation and control of the internet. Opponents of these proposed laws believe they endanger freedom on the internet. Yet the debates waged on this matter have also made it clear that “Freedom on the Net” has different shades of meaning in different states. In many autocratic states it primarily means the simple freedom to speak your mind without fear of physical reprisals.

FutureChallenges has seen through its bloggers how the internet gives people in authoritarian states a voice with which they can draw attention to their situation. This is why futurechallenges.org in partnership with theInternetundGesellschaftCo:llaboratory and theKonradAdenauerStiftung has now launched the irrepressiblevoices.org project. A special channel on YouTube is dedicated to showing how FutureChallenges’ and other bloggers can engage with social media to put the spotlight on violations of human rights, and how activists and bloggers can encourage other people to take a stand.

In a globalized world it’s not just markets that are moving ever close together but people as well – and the internet is one of the key channels for bringing them closer together. The newly launched irrepressiblevoices.org project should help to give a voice to those many people who otherwise cannot easily make themselves heard.

This blogpost has originally been published on futurechallenges.org.

The Internet as a Narcotic?

There are a few combinations of words that I don’t bear to hear anymore: Facebook and Revolution; Arab Spring and Facebook/Twitter. These are just two examples.

This does not mean that I don’t reckon the societal implications that social media do have. Quite the opposite is true (see my article Digital Revolutions: Beyond Tunisia and Egypt). For quite a long time you couldn’t read anything on political activism without a side note to the Arab spring and Social Media/Twitter/Facebook. Today, it happended again and it was one of these articles that you can hardly read without getting upset. (The article is written in German and was published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The Headline could be translated by There’s no revolution from your couch).

The author of the article cites another journalist who describes the Internet as a perfect „narcotic“ which is more effective as a TV because watching TV often happens in groups which implies direct conversations. Social scientists are cited who say that a decline in crime rates across Europe can be traced back to the fact that potential criminals spend more time in front of screens.

Another paragraph asks where Chinese bloggers were lingering when the Chinese regime feared upheavals and the answer is that they were blogging in their bedrooms (instead of taking to the streets). Could you be more cynical when you write about political activism in authoritarian countries?

I heard comments like this a few times before. Do those people actually have an idea how many bloggers are imprisoned all over the world because they express their opinion online? They could have a quick look at the Reporters Without Borders’ website and search for “bloggers”. Do they know how many people live under constant threat of being punished for their (political) online activities? Obviously not.

I think that journalists, analysts of politicial activism and others should be more careful before writing something like “No revolution from your couch”. It’s easy to write lines like that from a desk in a comfortable office in countries that are democratic, free and well-off in general. However, there are people all over the world whose only opportunity to express their opinion is online. And even this can be very dangerous!

I would like to point towards a video on “Human Rights and the Internet” by the Internet and Society Co:llaboratory in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and FutureChallenges. It shows the potential of the Internet in promoting human rights.