||49 Practical Activities and Methods for Human
Rights Education > The impact of the Internet
The impact of the Internet
In every great technology there is a political
or social prejudice.
|| Media, Globalisation,
General human rights
|| Level 4
||This activity involves both small-group and plenary discussions
to analyse issues of:
- the future of the Internet and the digital divide
- the use of the Internet for the promotion of human
- To raise awareness about the implications of the Internet
and access to information world-wide
- To develop imagination and critical thinking skills
- To promote justice and solidarity with others working
to promote human rights issues.
- Copies of the handouts
- Large sheets of paper and markers for each group
- Space for plenary and small-group work
- Make copies of handout no. 1, "Six options for
predicting the impact of the Internet", enough for
one copy between 2 people.
- Copy handouts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, enough so that each
member of the five working groups will have a copy.
This activity is in three parts: part 1, introduction (10 minutes),
part 2, predicting the impact of the Internet (60 minutes) and
part 3, how the Internet can be used to promote human rights (90
Part 1. Introduction (10 minutes)
- Introduce the activity by explaining that it will need the
imagination and critical thinking skills of all participants.
Their task will be to assess the impact of the Internet and
new information technologies on our lives and on human rights'
- As a quick warm-up and to provide some common knowledge,
give the group a few basic facts about the Internet, and then
ask them to talk in pairs about their own experiences with the
Internet and the advantages and disadvantages of using it. Allow
about ten minutes for this.
Part 2. Predicting the impact of the Internet ( 60minutes).
- Distribute copies of handout no. 1, "Six options for
predicting the impact of the Internet". Explain that, in
order to polarise decisions, the scenarios have been written
in fairly extreme terms.
- Ask each pair to decide which scenario is the most likely
to happen and which one is the least likely to happen. Give
them 15 minutes to do this.
- Ask all participants to come into plenary to give feedback
on their decisions. Try to summarise the discussions about:
- The most likely scenario(s).
- The relevance of human rights on information technology,
for example, the right to freedom of expression.
- The digital divide.
- Ask one or two participants to write the key points up on
Part 3. How the Internet can be used to promote human
rights (90 minutes).
- Divide the participants into five groups, A-E. Distribute
the handouts. Each person in group A should have a copy of the
"Handout for group A, the 'Future scenarios: Pessimistic
view' ", those in group B should each receive a copy of
the "Handout for group B, 'Future scenarios: Optimistic
view' ", etc.
- Give them 20 minutes to read the handouts and to share general
- Ask them to consider the information on the sheets in relation
to the outcomes of the discussions in part 1 on the impact of
the Internet. They should pay special attention to this part
of the work as it provides them with relevant information for
the next stage of the activity.
- Divide the participants into new groups. There should be
five people in each new group, one person originating from group
A, one from group B, one from group C, and so on.
- The task for each of these new groups is to decide which
are the three most important advantages or uses of the Internet
for promoting human rights.
- Suggest that they start with a round of sharing information,
beginning with the people from the C, D and E groups (that is,
those who have the information about NGO work) and ending with
the people from groups A and B. After that, they will be in
a better position to go on to the tasks of identifying and agreeing
the uses of the Internet for promoting human rights.
- They should also appoint a rapporteur to present the results
on a flipchart for the final plenary. Give them 35 minutes to
complete this phase.
- Call the participants into plenary to share the results of
Debriefing and evaluation
Start with a review of the activity and how people participated.
Then go on to review what they learned.
- How much do people already know about the Internet? How much
do they use it? What do they use it for?
- Was there a digital divide amongst the participants? What
effect did this have on peoples' ability to participate in the
activity? Did some people feel excluded because they did not
feel competent enough to contribute?
- Did others see this lack of experience as a handicap to the
- What are the advantages of working in a group where people
have very different experiences and attitudes to an issue?
- What were the most interesting things people learnt about
the work of the human rights NGOs? Were there any surprises?
- Do the overall advantages of using the Internet to promote
human rights outweigh the disadvantages?
What needs to be done to address the disadvantages?
Tips for facilitators
Assess how familiar the participants are with the Internet prior
to the activity so that you can pitch the level and the overall
In the debriefing, it is a good idea to focus on global as well
as on local issues of access to new information technology, making
sure that those who lack or have difficulties accessing the Internet
can make their voices and feelings heard. The aim of the questions
about the digital divide within the group and the advantages of
working with people with very different experiences is to encourage
people to consider various issues about making decisions.
You can extend the activity to include an exercise in building
consensus, as follows:
- In part 1, after step 4 (decision in pairs), ask each pair
to join another pair and in groups of four compare their choices
and come to a consensus concerning which scenario is most likely
to happen and which one is least likely to happen. Ask each
group of four to add a couple of sentences about potential human
rights issues (such as freedom of expression) to the scenario
they think is most likely to happen. The writing should ensure
that group(s) that come to a consensus quickly are encouraged
to continue to reflect together on the chosen scenario and have
a greater sense of ownership about it, before going on to the
next step (15').
- Now ask each group of four to join another group of four,
and in groups of eight compare their choices and come to a consensus
concerning which scenario is most likely to happen and which
one is least likely to happen. Ask each group to appoint a rapporteur
(15 minutes) Now proceed with the activity as from step five,
that is, the report of group results in plenary.
- In the plenary, ask participants to read the additional key
sentences/human rights issues and provide the main reasons for
their choices. Encourage the participants (and not only the
- reflect on the differences and similarities in the
choices made by the different groups,
- the reasons motivating the choices,
- the human rights issues in relation to the Internet
- the actual consequences of the chosen scenario(s).
- Also ask people to reflect on how they worked.
- Did people change their ideas during the various
- Was it harder to work in larger groups?
- Who tended to take the lead (for example: those
experienced/inexperienced with Internet)?
- Could people express themselves freely regardless
of their specific Internet competence?
Suggestions for follow-up
Encourage participants to visit
the web sites (and links) listed in the handouts "NGO Profiles".
They could then go on to reflect about a project to:
(a) Use available Internet resources to increase awareness about
human rights issues in their neighbourhood
(b) Find new ways of using the Internet for the promotion of
human rights issues.
(c) Create their own web site and link to other youth groups.
If participants are interested in working with a specific example
of the Internet being used to promote human rights, they could
do "When tomorrow comes". This
activity, which is about the right to life, uses material from
a web site created by a prisoner facing the death penalty.
Perhaps the group would now like to move on to think about how
what we see in pictures depends on our previous experience, expectations
and culture. If so then they could go to the activity, "Every
picture tells a story" in the all different all equal
Ideas for action
Take the ideas developed in the activity and follow-up, or take
up one of the numerous possibilities for actions offered by the
web sites (and links) listed in the handouts "NGO Profiles".
The 2001 UNDP "Human Development Report" focuses on
the digital divide and is available at www.undp.org
Six options for predicting the impact of the Internet
- THE WORLD WILL BE A BETTER PLACE! By 2010, everyone
in the world will be on-line. The Internet will make shops,
offices, and business travel entirely unnecessary. This
will save so much money that everything will be free!
Wars will end! Everyone will be happy!
- THE WORLD WILL BE A WORSE PLACE. By 2010, everyone
in the West will be on-line, but growing billions outside
developed capitalist society will still live in poverty.
The resulting instability will cause world-wide war, or
someone will finally use the nuclear bomb recipe - available
on-line. Everyone will die.
- PEOPLE WILL TAKE OVER THE INTERNET. By 2010, the sheer
volume of Internet traffic will mean that government control
will be impossible. Self-governing little societies will
spring up with people living in "virtual villages".
Everyone will be free.
- GOVERNMENT WILL TAKE OVER THE INTERNET. As Orwell had
predicted in "1984", by 2010, Big Brother will
really be watching you. All your e-mails, all your bank
details, all your personal schedules and purchases - everything
will be recorded and scrutinised. Internet computers will
be equipped with cameras that will monitor you 24 hours
a day. Totalitarian regimes will be in power everywhere.
Everyone will be oppressed.
- THE INTERNET IS A PASSING FAD. By 2010, the novelty
of cyberspace will fade. Everyone will go about their
business, just as they always did. There is no more need
for discussion about new information technology being
another battleground for freedom of expression. It will
save you a lot of money to ignore the cyberspace - it
will go away.
- THE INTERNET IS HERE TO STAY. By 2010, everyone in
the world will be connected to everyone else. You will
socialise through your computer screen, go on holiday
without leaving your living-room, and have arguments with
thousands of people you have never met before. The Internet
will be so pervasive that your only chance for economic
survival is to invest heavily and re-orient your entire
strategy around the Net.
Group A. Future scenarios: Pessimistic view
Neil Postman, "Five
ideas about technological change"
First, that we always
pay a price for technology; the greater the technology,
the greater the price.
Second, that there are
always winners and losers, and that the winners always
try to persuade the losers that they are really winners.
Third, that there is embedded
in every great technology an epistemological, political
or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly
to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing
press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated
space; television has humiliated the word; the computer,
perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on.
change is not additive; it is ecological, which means,
it changes everything and is, therefore, too important
to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates.
And fifth, technology
tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part
of the natural order of things, and therefore tends
to control more of our lives than is good for us.
(From a speech delivered
at the Conference, "The New Technologies and
the Human Person: Communicating the Faith in the New
Millennium" Denver, Colorado, March 27, 1998,
Group B. Future scenarios: Optimistic view
Sean Kidney, "The
Internet as a facilitator of citizen activity"
For people interested
in the web, I think the scenario is optimistic. Like
any kind of major upheaval and change, the web creates
opportunities, but also losses. We will see some losses
of print media as a result. I think this is a revolution
where there is enormous scope for individuals to have
an impact, because there is scope for people to actually
have their say - scope to be informed. News usually
disappears in revolutions, but here it doesn't.
One of my hopes for the
Internet is that it will become a facilitator of citizen
activity, and lead to a different kind of democracy.
I think this is quite important for us if we are to
make sure we don't increase social division, especially
in the next 10 years or so while the revolution slowly
catches up with the rest of the world. We need to
work together, not just nationally, but also globally,
to help craft the future of this particular revolution.
If you can read, the next
barrier to knowledge is access to information, access
to stuff to read, like a library. Think about what
a revolution community libraries have been in our
culture. The promise of the web, of course, is of
a global library.
(From a Talk to
the NSW Society of Editors, 6 April 1999, http://online.socialchange.net.au)
Group C. NGO profile: Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org)
, founded in 1961, campaigns to free all prisoners
of conscience; ensure fair and prompt trials for political
prisoners; abolish the death penalty, torture and
other cruel treatment of prisoners; end political
killings and "disappearances"; and oppose
human rights abuses by government or opposition groups.
Amnesty International has around a million members
and supporters in 162 countries and territories. Activities
range from public demonstrations to letter-writing,
from human rights education to fundraising concerts,
from individual appeals on a particular case to global
campaigns on a particular issue.
It is impartial and independent
of any government, political persuasion or religious
creed. Amnesty International is financed largely by
subscriptions and donations from its world-wide membership.
Its web-site offers a campaigning manual, a fair-trial
manual and opportunities to participate in campaigns,
register to receive urgent appeals on your mobile
phone (SMS message), and send postcards to get torture
Examples of Amnesty International's
After some mistakes and
consequent bad publicity, in the late 1960s, Amnesty
International adopted the rule that people in the
organisation were to work only on cases outside their
own countries. Volunteers still carry out most of
Amnesty International's work. They write letters to
governments that abuse the human rights of those who
hold opposing viewpoints, whether through imprisonment,
harassment, threats, physical mistreatment, torture,
"disappearances", or politically motivated
murder. They staff tables at public events, passing
out information to the public on prisoners of conscience
and human rights issues. They organise demonstrations,
write press releases, found letter-writing groups
at their churches, synagogues, or mosques and exercise
their intelligence and imagination in almost unlimited
never claims credit for the release of prisoners.
Releases are the result of many factors, not the least
of which are the actions (often taken at considerable
risk) of families and friends. However, many released
prisoners have said that Amnesty International's publicity
and letters were very important.
In 1977 Amnesty International
was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. Its
"Get up Sign up" campaign to mark the 50th
anniversary of the UDHR collected 13 million pledges
in support of the declaration. In 2001 the AI Stoptorture
Web-site won the Revolution Award 2001 for "best
use of e-mail". (www.stoptorture.org).
Group D. NGO profile: Derechos Human Rights (www.derechos.org)
Derechos Human Rights was founded in 1995, probably
the first Internet-based human rights organisation.
Together with Equipo Nizkor, the group's sister organisation
in Spain, Derechos started with the clear realisation
that the Internet has the potential of being a most
efficient tool in the battle against human rights
violations world-wide and to allow human rights organisations
to speak to the world in their own voice. Derechos
works with human rights organisations in Latin America
and the world to spread accurate and timely information
on the human rights situation in their countries,
as well as to give opportunities to help. The organisation
also co-ordinates several human rights mailing lists,
publishes an internet human rights journal, and works
on the preservation of memory and justice for the
disappeared. The web-site offers a comprehensive list
of links to other human rights organisations.
An example of Derechos' work
In 1998, Javier Vildoza (21) read the following
statements on the Derechos web-site: "Vildoza,
Jorge (alias) 'Gaston', Lieutenant Commander, subchief
GT332 (...); currently a fugitive, he lives in England;
he may have taken the son of Cecilia Vinas, born in
mid-September 1977". Javier found that the man
he thought to be his father was a known human rights
abuser, and that this man had stolen a child born
at the same time he was born at the Naval Mechanical
School, a notorious concentration camp during the
Argentine dictatorship. He was the son of Cecilia
Vinas and Hugo Reinaldo Penino but had been taken
by Jorge Vildoza, who was later indicted on over 60
charges of torture and murder. He had been registered
as Javier Gonzalo Vildoza Grimaldo and raised by Vildoza
and his wife as their own child and had never been
told the truth about his origins.
'Surfing' through the Derechos and Project Disappeared
web sites, Javier discovered that his natural parents
are still on the list of the disappeared and that
his natural grandparents had been searching for him
for more than 20 years. In 1998, he found them. His
realisation as to who he really was and what his father
had done compelled him to write to an investigating
court in Argentina and request a DNA test. The results
were conclusive: he was the son of Cecilia Vinas and
Hugo Reinaldo Penino. He has since been reunited with
his natural grandparents. The story of Javier illustrates
how on-line activism can bring unpredictable results
and can far exceed expectations. When Project Disappeared
was conceived, its purpose was to memorialise the
disappeared as human beings, to denounce those responsible
for their disappearances in Latin America and the
world. It was never expected that the web site would
help one of the disappeareds' children to learn the
truth about himself.
Group E. NGO profile: Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org)
Human Rights Watch is
an independent, non-governmental organisation, supported
by contributions from private individuals and foundations
world-wide. The organisation was founded in 1978 as
Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Helsinki),
in response to a call for support from embattled local
groups in Moscow, Warsaw, and Prague, which had been
set up to monitor compliance with the human rights
provisions of the landmark Helsinki accords. It accepts
no government funds, directly or indirectly. Human
Rights Watch works to end a broad range of abuses,
including summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention,
restrictions on the freedom of expression, association,
assembly and religion, violations of due process,
and discrimination on racial, gender, ethnic and religious
Human Rights Watch publicises
information on abuses in order to embarrass a government
before its own citizens and in the eyes of the international
community. Human Rights Watch also presses for the
withdrawal of military, economic and diplomatic support
from governments that regularly abuse human rights.
Three examples of Human
Rights Watch's work:
The International Criminal
Court: Human Rights Watch has been at the forefront
of efforts to create the International Criminal Court,
a permanent tribunal that will be available to try
the most serious human rights crimes, regardless of
where they are committed. As a result of public pressure
and advocacy efforts with governments and civil-society
groups around the world, 114 governments have agreed
to the treaty establishing the ICC and 21 have ratified
Chechnya: Human Rights
Watch was the only international human rights group
stationed continuously on the Chechnya border throughout
the Russian offensive, providing information leading
the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to adopt
a resolution condemning Russia's conduct in Chechnya.
The resolution marked the first time the commission
had censured one of the five permanent members of
the UN Security Council.
Kosovo: Human Rights Watch
launched a significant research operation in Kosovo,
well before the NATO bombing campaign. Its first book-length
report on Kosovo was published in 1990, and the organisation
monitored developments closely throughout the 1990s.
On-site investigations of several massacres in late
1998 and early 1999 led to front-page stories around