Posts Tagged ‘information overload’

2014 heralds the age of images in human rights work

December 28, 2013

To illustrate the increased use of video and images in the human rights world, just scroll down and get a feel of the amount and variety through some examples, mostly from the end of this year:

Human Rights Watch produced an end-of-year 2013 overview.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is announces the latest issue of its weekly video news bulletin (episode number 10).

Amnesty International used a slick production to get attention for the fate of Syrian refugees in Europe (not explaining why other regions are not targeted by the way).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used this video to address the world on Human Rights Day 2013;

Inspirational resilience: Celebrating Human Rights Defenders in Eurasia | Freedom House.

On Human Rights Day, US-based Freedom House recognized the work of HRDs in the Eurasia region with a slide show on: Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan.

The International Service for Human Rights in Geneva presents its work with a video.

Human Rights First used YouTube to announce its fundraising live stream for the end of the year.

There are of course many more examples, quite a few referred to in this blog over the years, such as those of the MEA: but  a special mention should be made of

the organisation Witness in the USA which has pioneered the use of video cameras in the hands of human rights defenders.

When the internet some 25 years ago made it possible to send and ‘publish’ almost unlimited amounts texts, the original euphoria in the human rights movement (whose main weapon is after all documentation) was quickly dampened somewhat when it also led to information overkill. Something similar is bound to happen with images which can now be ‘published’ and transmitted as easily as documents (but without the free-text search capacity). On the other hand there will be new possibilities and different ways of getting the human rights ‘stories’ across, especially on mobile devices used increasingly by younger generations.
The True Heroes Foundation – of which I am a founding Board member – wants to follow and use this development in a way that Human Rights Defenders derive maximum benefit from the new information and communication technology. It hopes to do so by making stories and images of HRDs the most eminent entry point for those seeking information on human rights in the near future. Keep following this blog and the website in the coming year for ….I am afraid …yet MORE information!!
With these thoughts, I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST FOR 2014.
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Technology firms and Human Rights Defenders, not the same thing

December 14, 2011

In a recent blog (10 December 2011) published by the Huffington Post, the executive director of Witness, Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm, labels technology companies as the “New Human Rights Players” ( That seems a bit too much honor for companies that produce devices and services that are at best ‘neutral’ in the same way that telephones – or for that matter knives –  could be used for any purpose, good or bad. It would be more appropriate to say that human rights activists and their organisations happen to be mostly working in the area of communication and information and therefore they profit disproportionately from a wider  and cheaper access to information technologies. The film industry has been around for more than a century but served mostly governments and big business as the technology was expensive and difficult to transport; it is only recently that film images can be recorded and distributed easily and cheaply. And indeed organisations such as the 20-year Witness have played a remarkable role in strengthening the capacity of HRDs to make use of these new possibilities.

In fairness, in her article the Witness director does also refer to the darker side of the technology industry but limits herself to say that “there are many examples of governments misusing technology and social media to track down activists and repress freedom of expression“. When she states that “technology providers can also play a critical role in creating products and services that can better serve citizen activists and human rights defenders” and that “whether they realize it or not, technology companies are important new players in protecting human rights — they hold the key to determining the fate of the tens of millions of people turning to video, technology and social media for change“, this has to taken with a strong dose of salt. Not only are there hundreds of technology firms in the world (not just the western world, but  including countries such as China, Russia, Iran, India, Singapore) that dot not care about human rights and that are developing information technology  for war, repression, or simply commercial purposes.  If there are some technology firms that have a warm heart for human rights, wouldn’t it be better to simply mention them by name? Clearer for the reader and a deserved reward for the companies concerned.

Another aspect of the revolutionary development in information technology  that deserves attention is that of worldwide overload. In the same way that there is nowadays so much written information on human rights available that most people can hardly find their way and that much (good) material remains unused, there is a big risk that the hundreds of thousands of videos on You Tube will remain unseen or at least undervalued. Increasing the audience is perhaps more important than  increasing the data on offer.

Still, the article offers lots of interesting insights and says what Witness is planning to do about some of the drawbacks and you should certainly read it in full.

All said, it remains true that with access to modern information technology, Human Rights Defenders – not the necessarily the companies –  have the advantage of playing a home match.

Musing on information overload: time off?

November 1, 2011

Admittedly not the best topic to bring up if one wants to increase traffic to one blog, but honesty dictates to shares my thoughts on this with you. It came about by the coincidence of two things: (1) my internet connection is down for technical reasons (I go on-line to do something and then disconnect again), and (2) I read belatedly Schumpeter’s column in the Economist of 2 July 2011 “Too much information”. The latter does not say anything shockingly new but is a good summing up of the problem. Not only the quantity of information is staggering (and continues to ‘stagger’ by doubling the amount of data stored every 18 months) but also the omnipresence and fragmentation due to ease of constant access (broadband, mobile access) is major factor.

The possible solutions include better filtering although I personally have doubt about the real effect of this. If the filters would successfully trim down the overload, it could well risk to make the feeling of stress even worse as the recipients ends up with a larger amount of important and urgent matters that require action or response. The filtering would only be useful if it would reduce the total amount of things to read or see, and one could feel sure that the stuff eliminated is really not important: a substantive SPAM filter that does not need to be checked.

More promising seems to be the ‘solution’ of time off, i.e. disconnecting from the internet and mobile phones completely for at least a few hours a day. This would restore people’s capacity to focus, thus to be more creative and productive as shown by considerable research quoted in the above-mentioned article.

The effect of this on my blog on Human Rights Defenders? Well, one of its purposes has always been to help people to digest the enormous amount of information available even on a relatively narrow topic such as HRDs. The selection may be biased and the way I summarize may be incomplete, but the blogs are usually short and ..- even if due only to my failing internet – there will be less of them for a while.

Johann Hari’s observation comes to mind: there is a good reason that ‘wired’ means both “connected” and “frantic, unable to concentrate”!