Human rights violations in fragile, illiberal democracies differ in type, nature, scope and target, while with the fast-changing world of technology, the limitations of human rights became omnipresent in the digital environment. Journalists, officials and the public face vicious attacks – including verbal abuse, trolling, smear campaigns and undue pressure to retract content – in response to publishing information online. Ongoing tensions and cultural controversies from the “physical sphere” are simply migrating to an “online reality”, while prevention or protection mechanisms are far from successful, and the accountability of online actors, including states and big tech companies, is limited.
The only systematic mapping and reporting of (mis)use of technology for human rights violations in the Western Balkans was carried out by BIRN, which started it during the COVID-19 pandemic. From August 2021 to August 2022, BIRN recorded over 700 cases of digital rights violations in eight Southeast European countries. Similarly, political and religious tensions, which continue to mark our societies’ cultural and political life, also surged, causing further polarization. Unsurprisingly, the two most common violations in the past year were “pressure because of expression and activities on the internet” and “manipulation and propaganda in the digital environment”. Journalists were most frequently the targets of online threats in many countries, with numerous smear campaigns against independent journalists.
For the reasons above, through a comprehensive approach, involving sub-granting, capacity-building, publication and promotion of media content and monitoring reports, relevant institutions on local, regional and EU levels will be strengthened to better address policy recommendations and act on them. Finally, action will work on improving the capacities of journalists and organizations by providing mentorship, editorial guidance, legal and grant support to increase policy and advocacy efforts, and equip target groups with the skills to track and respond to digital rights violations.
Overall Objective: Contribute to enhancing the knowledge and skills of media and civil society to methodically decipher the intersections between digital rights violations and disinformation, assert the right to information and respond to abuses in the digital sphere.
- Determine the patterns in digital freedoms violations in the targeted region that will serve as a basis for developing protection and prevention mechanisms, policy recommendations and legal framework improvements;
- Better informed societies on current digital freedom violations and raised awareness of critical threats in digital ecosystems;
- Enhanced digital safety, and increased media and civil society capacities to respond to digital threats through training, workshops and grants;
- Increased engagement in internet governance by men, women and young people through specialised software, an engaged citizens reporting tool, meet-ups and conferences.
- Conduct monitoring of digital rights breaches, recording about 1,500 cases and constant updating of the databases
- Develop a digital media policy hub
- Produce three research papers and three annual reports, mapping the main actors in digital disruption
- Present the cross-regional report and overall project impact through one regional conference and three online events for the research papers
- Develop five recommendation sets, one per monitored country, and distributing them to the respective decision-makers
- Hold (at least 15) meetings at national, regional, EU and international level to advance digital rights policies based on monitoring findings
- Develop and Deploy a Digital Service Tracker
- Produce at least 500 stories in English and local language for online, print and TV
- Ensure at least 500 are published by other media nationally, regionally and internationally
- Design and run an awareness raising and promotional campaign, reaching 20 million people
- Deliver six (6) national training sessions for reporting on digital rights violations for about 60 journalists from media in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo
- Organize three (3) regional Internet Freedom camps, which will bring together about 30 journalists, researchers, media/freedom of speech lawyers, fact checkers, academia, youth, activists and tech enthusiasts
- Provide technical assistance to 100 journalists and CSOs as hands-on support on some of the key challenges identified so far
- On-the-job mentoring and financial support to 30 local journalists and 10 local media outlets in the form of fellowship for stories
- Award 15 sub-grants to media and CSOs
- Raise the awareness of about 3,000 citizens on how to use specialized software to report on digital environment challenges
- Organize 12 meet-ups with local communities in the respective countries
Journalists, media outlets, policy makers, general digital policy forums and citizens.
BIRN HUB, BIRN offices in Albania, BiH, Serbia, and North Macedonia