Digital rights and colonialism: Perspectives on tech policy from the Arabic Speaking World

Dia Dia, Mohamad Najem, Jillian York, Marwa Fatafta

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The Internet connects the entire globe- yet some parts of the globe have more influence over how the Internet works than others. The EU is at the forefront of Internet-related legislation that could have global impacts. So far, those impacts have largely been negative. In this panel, we discuss how EU advocates can be global, not colonial.
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The Internet is global. Even with all of its problems, in 2022 it still represents a channel for people all over the world to speak directly to each other- and for people to challenge human rights violations, authoritarian policies, and even mass killings. 

Internet policy could reflect that global promise. Instead, it is largely colonial. Internet laws and policies created in the European Union are having an incidental, and largely negative, global impact. EU policymakers are also participating in the global forums that set policy far away from impacted communities. Authoritarian leaders and governments have copied the worst parts of laws like NetzDG, while passing their own restrictive Internet related laws. Meanwhile, platforms like Facebook and YouTube are making decisions about tools and policies that have nearly as much impact on the free expression and other human rights of users around the world as government policy- without real accountability. 

All of this is immediately apparent in the Arabic-speaking world. Platforms work to comply with EU policies like the "Terrorist Content Online" regulation through the use of automation. As a result, human rights documentation is removed.  They dedicate resources to content moderation in the EU that the Arabic-speaking world lacks, leaving up harmful hate speech and misinformation in the region while still removing political or human rights content. Many Arabic-speaking countries have passed harmful Internet legislation. In this context, platform tools and policies are ever more important- but their resources are focused on the US and EU.

In this panel, three experts will provide insight into how content moderation policies are playing out in the Arabic-speaking world and how EU advocacy can consider these impacts. They will talk about current legislative trends in the region and in the EU, global policymaking, and organizing efforts around these issues. The discussion will delve into the Facebook papers, problems caused by the use of artificial intelligence in platform moderation, as well as fact checking, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for better strategies to understand the different dialects and the particular cultural context of the region. The discussion will be solutions-oriented and we will welcome audience feedback. 

picture of a white presenting nonbinary person with glasses
Associate Director for Advocacy
Mohamad Najem
Executive Director
image of Jillian York
Director for International Freedom of Expression
Marwa Fatafta
MENA Policy Manager