On June 20, we hosted a live online Roundtable conversation bringing together leaders from Pakistan, the United States, and Syria to discuss ways that they, as human rights defenders, utilize the internet and protect themselves online.
The conversation was moderated by Abeer Pamuk, an Atlas Corps Fellow from Syria. Guests were RuthAnna Buffalo of Honor the Earth and Sacred Pipe Resource Center in North Dakota, and Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer and founder of the Digital Rights Foundation.
The women recalled times that their online work has drawn harassment and surveillance from government or private actors. “In the new day of technology, the internet, social media there is more bullying and harassment that happens to women, especially those that are using their voices,” said Buffalo.
The women shared methods that they have used to cope with online harassment, as well as strategies that they have used to utilize social media for good. “It’s really important that women protect other women,” said Dad, who also came to the roundtable prepared with specific shareable online resources for other human rights defenders.
Dad believes that governments should instill digital literacy into school curriculums. She added that human rights defenders could find valuable information on sites such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Front Line Defenders, and her own nonprofit, the Digital Rights Foundation.
In terms of using social media for good, RuthAnna Buffalo said she has used social media to campaign for public office, and also as a means to put pressure government officials and law enforcement in North Dakota during the recent Standing Rock protests in the United States. Dad also has had experience lobbying for change in her own country online through campaigns to address topics such as honor killings.
Both women agreed that when launching campaigns online, human rights defenders need to be aware of the tools required to stay safe online. Stronger passwords, antivirus systems and risk assessments were a few of the methods recommended. “These are the small little tips human rights defenders can adopt,” Dad said.
The women concluded that human rights defenders need to remain confident while safely voicing their opinions online. “Ultimately, I believe these forms of harassment are meant to cause fear in people to silence us,” Buffalo said.
Watch the archived live stream here: