CONFRONTING THE MARGINS: MOZILLA FESTIVAL #MozFest2023 INTERROGATES IMPACT OF AI AND TECH ON STRUCTURALLY SILENCED COMMUNITIES IN AFRICA.

The annual Mozilla Festival #MozFest has been defined as “part art, tech and society convening, part maker festival, and the premiere gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.”

Mozilla Foundation hosted its first ever regional Mozfest House #MozFest2023 in Kenya from 21st to 22nd September this year in accordance to the global theme The Collective Power of the People bringing together artists, activists, technologists, designers, students, researchers, policy makers and journalists from diverse communities and movements across the Eastern and Southern Africa. Following a range various of panel discussions, the hybrid event interrogated the emerging issues and local approaches related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) alongside other technological advancements, data governance, how movements are core to catalyzing change online, and, existing people-driven technologies at the intersection of tech and society in Africa.

Our Executive Director at HER Internet, Sandra Kwikiriza engaged in a collective panel conversation with Harvey Binamo (Tech Officer at Magambo Network, Zimbabwe), Lawrence Mute (Human Rights Lawyer and Practitioner, Kenya), Weam Shawgi Hassan (Feminist and Gender Defender, Sudan) and moderated by Roselyn Odoyo (Mozilla Foundation). Within this discourse dubbed “Confronting the Margins”, the speakers explored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and technology in deepening and shaping the lived realities of diverse structurally silenced communities, existing opportunities in addressing tech marginalization and finding solutions to creating a better digital experience within the African context.

As the African continent advances and adapts to new innovations in technology at breakneck speeds, it is evident that structurally silenced communities are further left behind hence intensifying technological marginalization. The recurrent state sponsored internet shutdowns due to political tensions, digital illiteracy, limited to no access to digital infrastructure and technologies, unwarranted censorship, surveillance, disproportionate access to social services (education and fair employment) and invalidated lived experiences of online forms of harm which have extended over a long period of time even before the realization of AI, are onerous issues posed in access to information and navigating proper interaction with technology today.

“Marginalization is pervasive. It exists in a continuum of things such as freedom of expression, association, mobilization and building networks. Tech has made it easy for us to organize and mobilize in closed groups as we build networks to strategize on how to make our lives better. But if there is a divide between access to tech and access to information, these things are difficult to do. And if we are unable to organize offline, it’s also getting increasingly hard to organize online because of infiltration from people into these spaces…” Sandra explained in her submission on the implication of censorship, surveillance and other existing forms of online violence as a contributor to technological marginalization of already deeply marginalized communities like the queer community, resulting into the deprivation of their rights to privacy, expression and association both online and offline.

Weam highlighted the uncontrollable increase of state sponsored misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and propaganda especially through social media targeting womxn and feminists who are viewed as a stereotype in Sudan for speaking truth to power in the face of the constant wars, hence leading to unwarranted arrests, detentions and threats of violence.

In light of the issue on right to access to information and accessibility to digital friendly tools, Mute explained the limitation of AI as an impediment which doesn’t acknowledge nor address peculiar needs in regards to accessibility especially in respect to persons living with disabilities. “The problem with AI is that it will sort of try to go to the center. And, the danger with going to the center is that it then assimilates and forces all of us to become the same which becomes extremely a challenge for people with disabilities,” Mute expressed as he further raised caution on the impact of source(s) of information and algorithms on content which undermines difference, “Where is this data and algorithms being prepared from? They are getting the information from society. So, if society, in respect of gender is sexist, homophobic or ableist in respect of disability, if you’re not careful, what then you will have is content which undermines a difference …”

To address tech marginalization, content moderation, language inclusion and review of quality of information online should be prioritized by all key players in the digital and tech sector to limit misinformation and spread of harmful narratives propagated by algorithms which facilitate the marginalization of structurally silenced communities. Algorithms especially on social media negate access to factual information, amplifies misinformation and disinformation as sensationalized posts or content attract the most attention and clicks with little progress in ensuring content moderation and quality of information within posts. Intersectionality among big tech companies, policy makers and structurally silenced groups should equally be taken into account to address the adverse challenges of the widening tech marginalization posed by AI.

Palatable social technologies and innovations ought to be considered and adjusted based on diverse contexts. Also, open and free public engagement between decision-makers and citizens in the bargain will foster collaborations among multiple stakeholders to improve internet infrastructure, encourage access and accessibility across the digital landscape in the continent. Lest we forget, the role of legal and policy frameworks is extremely critical and a means to an end to bridge the increasing technological gap. To get a glimpse of this conversation, watch here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnGIBelsAVk&t=246s

PRESS RELEASE: HER INTERNET CALL TO ACTION ON NON-CONSENSUAL SHARING OF INTIMATE IMAGES.

(Kampala, 6 September 2023) – In the past two weeks, social media in Uganda has been awash with Non-Consensual Circulation of Intimate Images (NCII) with names of the victims used as trending hashtags across different social media platforms especially on Twitter and TikTok, and, further extended to porn sites as content.

A 2018 report by the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences notes that online violence against women may manifest in different forms and through different means, such as non-consensual accessing, using, manipulating, disseminating, and/or sharing of private data, photographs or videos; including sexualized images with the purpose of shaming, stigmatizing or harming the victim.

It is against this background that HER Internet strongly condemns this concerning and escalating form of online violence that disproportionately affects womxn, due to the adverse effects on the victims. Their intimate private images and videos were obtained in secret, uploaded and shared online without their consent and knowledge through breaching their right to privacy both online and offline.

The prevalence of NCII has been attributed to the normalization and trivialization of online violence against women which continues to be downplayed, in addition to the objectification of womxn’s bodies. Initially, the perpetrators of NCII were largely ex-partners of the victims with malicious intentions to humiliate, shame or revenge inciting the common reference ‘revenge porn’. However, NCII is not pornography, but confidential private content that is leaked and shared without consent of the victim and the term ‘revenge porn’ further undermines the magnitude of this type of online violence. Furthermore, the trend of NCII has evolved to include hackers who seek to blackmail and extort, as well as trolls and digital media outlets chasing for clout to increase their following or audience on social media. Due to the well-known fact on the nature of the internet which never forgets, any content distributed online will stick and is almost impossible to control. It is downloaded, saved, archived and/or redistributed with little to nothing to be done about such incidents.

NCII results in long term negative impacts on both survivors and victims that run deeper than what our physical eyes can see. These include; psychological struggles, victimization and vulnerabilities to other forms of online violence (such as cyberstalking, hate speech, body shaming, slut shaming) and finally, the loss of future prospects due to permanence of the victims and survivors’ graphic sexualized content online. This has threatened the presence of women online and forced them to shun or quit online spaces increasing the digital gender divide.

To date, there are no records of any perpetrator responsible for NCII being held accountable, investigated or summoned. Several cases continue to go unreported to law enforcement because in Uganda today, no law within the constitution criminalizes NCII. Victims are actually considered offenders under the Anti- Pornography Act 2014 for creation and distribution of pornographic content under Section 13 of the Act which criminalizes the production, trafficking in, publication, broadcasting, procuring, importing, exporting, selling or abetting any form of pornography. The Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019 does not help matters either since it is neutral and doesn’t mention how to regulate NCII data, coupled with the lack of knowledge on this form of online harm, and willingness to holistically deal with online violence among law enforcement and legal practitioners.

HER Internet’s Executive Director Sandra Kwikiriza says, “This form of online harm is not new, but society’s response to it has become increasingly insidious.  The victims are left to deal with this violence on their own, with devastating consequences for their mental wellbeing. This experience has become normalized and invisibilized on social media and in society in general, driving victims to silence and shame, with profound effects on their confidence and wellbeing further exposing them to harm both online and offline. These attacks may not be physical, but they are often threatening, relentless, and limit womxn’s freedom of expression. Driving womxn and girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world and damages their ability to be seen, heard and participate in public discourse.”

We believe that using the human rights approach through multi-stakeholder partnerships within the ICT sector, legal fraternity, law enforcement, civil society together with the general public will help regulate and address the issues of NCII in addition to the recommendations suggested below;

  • Report to respective official social media websites which entail policies that prohibit NCII to support the removal of the graphic content from their platforms and prevent any further distribution online.
  • Also, reach out to us for assistance in case you or anyone that you know experiences any form of violence that breaches the community standards on any online platform through email: info@herinternet.org
  • Periodically update your digital security and privacy settings both on your devices and online accounts to avoid emerging cyber threats and spyware.
  • Advocate for provisions within the cyber laws and policies that are gender specific to protect the victims and support strategic litigation processes and efforts for justice.
  • Raise awareness on the different manifestations of NCII and take early action on the threats of violence, cases of blackmail or extortion and harassment both online and offline.
  • Survivors can also reach out to www.stopncii.org which is a free tool designed to support victims of NCII abuse through detection and removal of the images from being further shared online.

To download full statement; https://www.herinternet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/NCII-Press-Release.pdf

POWER OF PRIDE VIRTUAL DIGITAL SECURITY TRAINING EMPOWERS WOMEN WITH ONLINE SAFETY TIPS AND SKILLS FOR ADVOCACY.

From 14th to 15th August 2023, HER Internet hosted 20 women based in Eastern and Western Uganda to a two-day virtual Digital Safety and Security Training in collaboration with Inuka Women’s Foundation (IWF), Twilight Support Initiative Uganda (TSIU) and Eastern Women Voices of Change (EWVC). The aim of this initiative which was supported by Power of Pride (P.O.P) was to equip participants with basic digital safety knowledge and skills to enable them safeguard against cyber-attacks such as phishing scams and social engineering as well as ensure their privacy and anonymity online.

The Executive Director at HER Internet, Sandra Kwikiriza expressed appreciation in her welcome remarks to the attendees for their passion to take safety and security to another level. She also noted that the timely event which specially targeted women living upcountry was beneficial to help them navigate the internet safely and enhance their advocacy work online for themselves, collectives and communities.

In sessions facilitated by the staff at HER Internet, Kettie Kahume, Sanyu Murungi and Diana Karungi, participants plunged into discussions on the most common hacking techniques in Uganda at present specifically the workings of social engineering and phishing which have become widely used to psychologically manipulate individuals to freely share or hand over their confidential information, and hence, accelerated cyber threats and attacks leading to incredible financial losses, data leaks or breaches and identity theft. It was noteworthy that perpetrators of these cyber-attacks use any exciting information and experiences such as attractive offers, freebies, lavish prizes, urgent calls to action, emergencies and fake sensationalized stories to grip attention of the targeted victim(s).

A discussion on Phone and Social Media highlighted the importance and recommendations to secure communication using mobile phones and social media in order to ensure one’s privacy and safety online considering the rapid unanticipated changes within Uganda’s legislation that affect both the human rights and digital rights of communities of structurally silenced women. Attention was directed to the issues that could raise in case  devices and communications are compromised or unsecured. These include; infringement of digital rights and internet freedoms, increased targeted and unwarranted surveillance, interception of standard calls and messages, cyber-crimes and online gender-based violence which widens the digital gender divide.

To ensure that they do not fall victim to social engineering, phishing and other emerging cyber threats, some recommendations and tips were availed to the participants to boost their digital safety. They were encouraged to only click links with “https” at the beginning of the URL which is a secure version of the HTTP protocol, avoid any suspicious links and steer clear of websites whose offers seem “too good to be true”. They were also advised to use secure instant messaging platforms namely Signal and WhatsApp, cautioned to create strong unique passwords, utilize user-friendly password managers, enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), familiarity with available privacy and security options on respective devices and online accounts, regular updates and installations of reliable antivirus software, monitor app permissions and adapt the daily use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or secure browsers like the Tor Browser.

To learn more, check out our socials or presentations attached in the links below;

https://www.herinternet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/P.O.P-Training-Day-1-Presentation-2.pdf

https://www.herinternet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/P.O.P-Training-Day-2-Presentation.pdf

https://www.herinternet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Social-Engineering-and-Passwords-P.O.P-Presentation-2.pdf

WOUGNET HEIGHTENS CIVIC AWARENESS FOR A STRONG AND RESILIENT CSO ENABLING ENVIRONMENT UNDER LOCAL VOICES PROJECT.

The increase in constant unexpected changes within Uganda’s legal framework along with the internal struggles especially in areas of funding and resource mobilization are problems that have widely hampered the solid existence and smooth operations of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the recent past.

On this account, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) hosted key stakeholders to a capacity building training workshop on Legal Frameworks and Advocacy Strategies for CSOs and media organizations in Kampala on Friday 21st July 2023 under the #LocalVoices project, a nationwide initiative during the month of July with support from Internews to promote civic awareness, widen reach to structurally silenced groups to enable them utilize the available advocacy approaches and encourage positive reforms within the legal framework which will contribute to a strong and resilient CSO enabling environment.

Acting Executive Director at Chapter Four Uganda, Mr Anthony Masake engages representatives from media and civil society in a session on how to traverse through the current unpredictable legal framework in Uganda.

The Facilitator, Mr Anthony Masake (acting Executive Director at Chapter Four Uganda) emphasized during a session on steering successfully in this ever-changing legal framework that compliance with national regulatory legislation notably; the Company Act (2012), NGO Act (2016), Anti Money Laundering Act (2013) and Data Protection and Privacy Act (2019) will broadly prevent the potential disruptions in operations and shutdowns.

Discussions further examined the several alternative approaches that can be put to use through different Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), expertise and knowledge to foster advocacy efforts both online and offline. “Harnessing the potential of effective advocacy requires a recognition of its potency. It is crucial to adopt innovative approaches to realize the desired goals and vital to articulate the precise details of the activities to be undertaken in the process,” Mr Anthony Masake noted in his presentation on The Power of Advocacy.

The workshop also encompassed more hybrid presentations by experts from the Machine Learning for Peace (https://mlpeace.org/) on the application, benefits and challenges of machine learning, as well as the use of data to boost civic awareness. Jeremy Springman, an Expert from Machine Learning for Peace cautioned that most governments across the world are enhancing all new technologies to limit political competition and enhance oppression, which calls for big data to enable planning through predictive analytics for strategic decision making, documentation and tracking of events and early warning signs to give a better understanding of the operating environment for CSOs.

Biannual Newsletter 2023 Issue 5.

Welcome to the 5th Edition of our Biannual Newsletter where we recap some highlights of news and events from the first half of this year -2023 which include; an Online Safety and Security workshop (Cohort 2) leading up to Internet Safety Month, a virtual Digital Safety Training on Circumvention Techniques in commemoration of International Girls in ICT Day, observance of International Women’s Day #IWD2023 under global theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” and CNN engagement on How Does Your Gender Affect Your Life Online. To view or download, here; https://www.herinternet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/HI-Newsletter-2023-Edition-52-1.zip

As you spare a few minutes to dive in, we really hope that you enjoy catching up with us and reach out in case of any feedback, queries or inquiries. We appreciate your continuous support thus far, and, have a great rest of the year.

COHORT II OF ONLINE SAFETY AND SECURITY TRAINING WORKSHOP SETS TONE FOR INTERNET SAFETY MONTH 2023.

Internet Safety Month is observed every year in June. It is a time reserved to remind us of our shared understanding, responsibility and action towards the digital safety practices to secure our devices, online accounts and daily browsing activities so as to mitigate the ever-changing risks of cyber-crimes and effects of online violence.

Under #BeInternetAwesome, we kicked off this time of year with a training workshop on Online Safety and Security (Cohort 2) for 20 womxn at our office premises in Kampala on Tuesday 30 May 2023 with support from Tor Project team. The Co- Facilitators, Kettie Kahume and Sandra Kwikiriza engaged participants in timely conversations packaged through different sessions on digital safety tips, mitigation of cyber threats and circumvention techniques, which defined the purpose of this one- day event to address the digital security gaps of the participants both as individuals and organizations to prevent certain extreme levels of insecurity in the future. “The internet is not a place that we exist, but also where we should take precaution of safety. Just like we take care of our personal physical spaces or homes where we don’t take any chances, we need to make sure that our devices are secure even if they are not in our hands,” Sandra pointed out in her opening remarks to a session on Digital Safety Tips for devices and online communications.

Kettie Kahume, the Detailer at HER Internet engages with attendees on how Tor browser works.

Following a discussion on the increasing risks and occurrence of cyber-attacks today, most participants confirmed to have been victims of phishing attempts, social engineering and hacking as they intimated their experiences. This conversation stressed the laxity and/ or absence of proper up-to-date digital security measures mainly on the part of most key players especially within Uganda’s telecommunications, finance and banking sectors. To address this problem, attention was called to discernment and keenness to who, what, why and how we share personal information especially under the pretext of “credible” messages, emails or calls from “reputable” persons, parastatals and international non-government bodies.

The day ended with practical lessons about how the Tor browser works as a circumvention tool, its benefits and how it operates to ensure privacy and anonymity of the end- users. Attendees were urged to reflect on how cyber threats such as hacking can compromise their devices and personal information online which will further spill and affect them offline. Emphasis was also put on resilience, consistency and optimism in available best practices to ensure everyday digital safety which should be prioritized as a first and personal issue for each individual.

For a daily guide on digital security and safety at your fingertips, check out our socials or download and read more from our resource “Online Safety Tips” here; https://www.herinternet.org/online-safety-tips-brochure/

VIRTUAL DIGITAL SAFETY TRAINING ON CIRCUMVENTION TECHNIQUES.

The International Girls in ICT Day is an annual global event that was initiated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It is commemorated every fourth Thursday of the month of April to create awareness and call for more participation of womxn and girls within the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

Under this year’s theme “Digital skills for all”, HER Internet convened 20 womxn for a virtual Digital Safety Training on Circumvention Techniques on Wednesday 19th April 2023 ahead of the International Girls in ICT Day with support from the Tor Project team. The workshop was facilitated by our Detailer at HER Internet, Kettie Kahume, with the objective to check in on the digital safety of the participants, share a recap on the circumvention tools and introduction to the Snowflake proxy.

Simply defined, Tor browser (otherwise known as The Onion Router) is a web browser that enables internet users browse privately and explore freely away from “prying eyes” that track or surveil their online activities as well as circumvent censorship. Hence, the Tor browser counters non-consensual tracking or data mining, prevent some VPNs from getting and sharing the users’ free information, helps bypass censorship on the internet and evades surveillance.

The Snowflake proxy is an extension that allows people from around the world a double layer of protection via Tor network through further disguising one’s own online activities. Kettie explained in her presentation that the Snowflake feature is embedded in the existing apps and devices that have access to the Tor networks both on mobile phones and desktops. She further suggested that both Tor browser and snowflake should be downloaded or accessed via the official Tor website directly for authenticity reasons. It was also noted that digital security can’t be discussed or practiced without digital literacy which should also be prioritized especially for structurally silenced groups in remote and rural areas who mostly lack this knowledge.

To wrap it all up, HER Internet was appreciated for the informative responses in the sessions and attendees called for more deep dive digital safety trainings to popularize Tor services for online privacy and anonymity. Other mitigation measures were also suggested to upgrade digital security amidst the evolving and emerging trends of online attacks especially through social media apps. These included; the adaptation of safe VPNs, cautiousness while sharing information and content online, sharing hints and tips on online safety through awareness campaigns and individual responsibility for safety through scrutiny and vigilance.

SPOTLIGHT ON NON- CONSENSUAL CIRCULATION OF INTIMATE IMAGERY.

The cases of Non- consensual Circulation of Intimate Imagery (NCII) have increased alarmingly across various mass media and social media platforms in Uganda especially in the recent few months. This problem has been escalated by unawareness and adamance of the general public and law enforcement to recognize that forms of online abuse generate real life impacts that result into unfortunate consequences especially in the long term.

Furthermore, the lack of gender responsive provisions even within the current cyber legislation has reinforced the re-victimization of OGBV victims and survivors specifically womxn and girls who are considered offenders under the Anti- Pornography Act 2014 for the creation and distribution of pornographic content. And, that’s why several cases constantly go unreported without even trying to seek for redress.

It is due to the above-mentioned facts that we dedicated time during this last month of March in observance of Women’s Month to conduct an awareness advocacy drive through our social media platforms in an endeavor to unmask the facts, forms and share suggestions on how the vice of Non-consensual Circulation of Intimate Images (NCII) can be tackled.

UGANDA SOCIAL MEDIA CONVENTION 2023.

We attended the annual Uganda Social Media Convention #SMC2023 organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Uganda country office at the MCI Media Hub in Kampala on Thursday 23rd March 2023. Themed Social Media, AI and the Future of Governance, the aim of this conference was to convene various key stakeholders from the government, civil society, academia and media to take part in deep dive engagements on the relevance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and social media by highlighting the opportunities, challenges and impacts with consideration of how information is accessed and processed.

The event comprised of a social media exhibition, interactive plenary sessions, expert roundtables and workshops concerning the new forms of civic engagement, storytelling, digital economy, building social movements and connected communities, data colonialism, digital privacy and protection through social media and generative AI among other topical discussions. For recaps on this event and the previous editions, please visit; https://socialmedia.ug/

CAPACITY ENHANCEMENT ON GENDER RESPONSIVE COMMUNICATION FOR POLICY DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES.

From 14th to 15th March 2023, we attended a knowledge and skills enhancement training on Gender Responsive Communication for Policy Development Processes hosted by Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) Secretariat in Kampala. The two days’ workshop specifically targeted Advocacy and Communications Officers to direct attention to the importance of effective messaging and communication framework or guidelines in ensuring a progressive women’s rights agenda based on #Communication4PolicyDevt, an evidence-based communications research using the Natural Language Processing approach which was produced by UWONET in 2019.

Facilitators, Justine Atim and Shawn Oseku brainstorm with the participants in a session on Principles and Recommendations to Gender Responsive Reporting.

Topical discussions covered the development of a media gender content audit report, gender representation in media drawing a clear understanding on the current relationship between mass media and gender along with proposed recommendations to address the concerning realities, issues and challenges to gender responsive reporting in Uganda.

Emphasis was put on encouragement of gender responsive approaches to resources and research, regular engagements with media, building mentorship and expertise among women which will enable them to engage more in public discourses and become sources from a point of knowledge on the issues that affect them, and finally, utilization of the available laws and policies that ensure gender equality such as the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).