BIRN Hosts Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade, Serbia

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BIRN hosted Internet Freedom Meet, a four-day conference, in Belgrade, Serbia, from June 26 to 29. The gathering brought together 18 speakers and more than 30 participants – journalists, researchers, media freedom and human rights activists, fact-checkers, and tech enthusiasts working in digital rights.

L-R: Ljubisa Bojic, Branka Andjelkovic, Predrag Tadic, Deniz Wagner. (BIRN)

The four-day event started with a keynote address by Caroline Sinders, a machine-learning-design researcher and artist. Sinders, founder of Convocation Design + Research, has developed expertise at the nexus of machine learning, user research, and public good design through collaborations with such esteemed entities as Amnesty International, IBM Watson and the Wikimedia Foundation.

The first day also featured an engaging roundtable discussion, “Enhancing Internet Freedom Through Digital Rights Activism,” moderated by Sinders. Joining the panel was Rima Sghaier, a respected name in digital rights advocacy, Amar Karađuz from the citizens association “Why Not,” and Bojan Perkov, a digital policy coordinator at the SHARE Foundation. They exchanged thoughts and strategies on bolstering internet freedom through digital rights advocacy. To close the day, Sghaier led a hands-on workshop on “Engaging in Digital Rights Activism.”

The second day shed light on the pressing concern of online-to-offline violence. Carlos Guerra, Technical Advisor on Digital Security at Greater Internet Freedom Project, led the day by giving an introductory address and later moderating a discussion featuring Katarina Golubović, from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM), and Hristina Piskulidis, a Communications Officer at ASTRA.

Both women, experienced in human rights advocacy and eradicating human trafficking, respectively, shared perspectives in the roundtable discussion titled “Preventing Violence: Online Extremism and Offline Consequences.”

Guerra’s afternoon workshop on digital safety in the time of remote work was particularly inspiring to participants who learned how to protect themselves in the work-from-home era.

Later in the day, Anđela Milivojević, an investigative reporter, led a thought-provoking workshop addressing cyberbullying and online harassment in investigative journalism based on her investigative article published by BIRN’s Balkan Insight, which prompted a reaction by Telegram, a 700-million user instant messaging app.

Day three showcased BIRN’s regional research report “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which focuses on the accountability of Balkan telecommunication companies, using the Ranking Digital Rights’ methodology. Dragana Žarković Obradović, BIRN Serbia country director, presented the main findings and led the discussion about the report’s results.

L-R: Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, Tanja Maksic, Bojan Stojkovski, Ana Toskic-Cvetinovic, Leandro Ucciferri (on screen)

The panel included Leandro Ucciferri, global partnerships manager at Ranking Digital Rights, Tanja Maksić, a researcher and project coordinator from BIRN Serbia, Ana Toskić-Cvetinović, executive director of Partners Serbia, and Bojan Stojkovski, who was one of the researchers for the report.

To close the day, Ivana Jeremić, an editor at Balkan Insight, hosted a workshop that looked closer at BIRN’s recent investigation on so-called “free roaming” in the Balkans.

The final day of the Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade was dominated by discussions on artificial intelligence, AI. Ljubiša Bojić, a senior research fellow at the University of Belgrade’s Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory and a coordinator of Digital Society Lab, gave a thought-provoking keynote address.

A round table discussion on AI accountability, the EU AI Act, and responsible use of AI followed, moderated by Bojić. The discussion was enriched by insights from Deniz Wagner, an adviser to the world’s only intergovernmental media freedom watchdog – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Predrag Tadić, an assistant professor at the University of Belgrade’s School of Electrical Engineering, and Branka Anđelković, programme director of the Public Policy Research Center.

The last session of BIRN’s Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade was Wagner’s workshop, which equipped attendees with tools for advocating responsible AI policies.

Speakers and participants agreed that BIRN’s Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade propelled the dialogue on a variety of critical issues by facilitating the platform for timely and much-needed discussions revolving around internet freedom and digital rights, setting the stage for future discussions and collaborations aimed at safeguarding these integral aspects of our lives in the digital era.