- Information and communication technology (ICT) has the potential to effect social change, despite the challenges and risks involved.
- Take back technology from commercial companies by building your own infrastructure, pushing for ethical hardware and using open source software.
- As the majority, women should shape the digital space.
- Technology enables citizens to challenge ‘big monsters like the European Union’.
Ana Alcalde, Director of Alianza por la Solidaridad introduced this roundtable, organised by Spanish and other partners committed to social change and dedicated to how information and communications technology (ICT) might play a stronger role in bringing it about.
Alcalde said she sees democratisation as an ongoing process of a wider recognition of rights and that ICT offers a new opportunity and window for change despite the challenges and risks involved. She also drew attention to an ongoing consultation on Twitter under #ICT4SocialChange.
Iván Sánchez from the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), which was formed after the subprime mortgage crisis in Spain, described the collective fights for the livelihood of people affected with no political affiliation and non-violent methods. Nevertheless, PAH has stopped 825 evictions and relocated 812 people into empty buildings owned by banks: ‘The government won't do it, so we do it for them,’ Sánchez declared.
Through a combination of digital and physical actions, PAH collected over 1 million signatures for a Popular Legislative Initiative against the mortgage law, which is considered a violation of human rights. This was ignored by the government despite ‘technopolitics’: getting the topic trending on Twitter, forcing the closure of Facebook accounts of political targets, and massive faxing and mailing to deputies to the Spanish parliament. PAH uses social networks to implicate society and celebrates that ‘every day in every way everybody is getting on the net’ so this is a growing phenomenon.
‘We can eat the 1% [of the people in the world who hold the wealth] as there are more of us and we have technology on our side. Hackers are several steps ahead of the government,’ Sánchez said.
Leandro Navarro, Associate Professor at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, underlined the critical importance of Internet infrastructure by pointing out that people were unable to tweet at European Development Days because the access was inadequate. He believes ICT is too important to leave in the hands of companies and that open protocols are under threat. E-mail itself might disappear at some point.
For Navarro, the first step to ‘take back tech’ is to build your own infrastructure. Local community nodes can cost as little as EUR 40 and are more sustainable than current commercial networks. He also noted that ‘bottom-up broadband’ is on the EU’s Digital Agenda. Hardware is another issue. Navarro admitted to feeling guilty about having bought an Apple computer as it ‘is giving money to a scheme that is killing people’.
Navarro urged the audience to be careful about encouraging the use of a tool in a campaign because there are catches. ‘We need open standards before we are fully disconnected; we are partially disconnected already,’ he said. ‘We need an Internet of the people, by the people, for the people. The Internet should be a social, not only a commercial space,’ he concluded.
Executive Director of the One World Platform for South East Europe Valentina Pellizzer described herself as a ‘trans-local activist’. Her main concern as a feminist is that ‘you see prejudice being produced faster on the Internet’. As the majority, she called on women to shape the space, focusing on privacy and technology-related violence against women. She imagines it is possible to ‘transform the very basic logic of the world. Technology can be different; technology can be feministic’.
Susana Sanz, an activist working with the 15M Indignados movement, echoed this theme. ‘We can go further with Internet and turn this whole world upside down,’ she said. Citing the case of Greece’s ERT TV station, she emphasised that ICT empowers citizens when the mass media does not reflect their concerns or perspectives. ‘Citizen reporters can counter fake information and transmit, for instance, police brutality in Valencia against people just protesting for their rights,’ she said.
‘We are in a changing era with all of these big monsters like the European Union and we need to respond to make sure that our point of view is heard,’ Sanz concluded.
Xavier Dutoit, representing Right to Water, remarked that participation is going down in European Parliament elections because no one cares about them. Part of problem is that people do not know what the Parliament is doing. ‘The data is there, but we need to use it,’ he said.