Creating a global flotilla campaign


By Alexandra Pardal, Director of Campaigns

It’s sadly no exaggeration to say Big Tech companies are ever more powerful and threatening global democracy and human rights more than ever before. As we face the biggest election megacycle of our time in 2024, global solidarity to face these behemoths is needed now more than ever. That’s why Digital Action is creating a flotilla campaign of organisations and experts from across the world, and particularly from the global south.

For the last nine months we’ve listened to over 60 civil society organisations from South Africa to India, to Mexico, about their experience of social media giants and their impact on society. And last week, we invited everyone we’ve engaged to date to discuss how we can co-create the first ever truly global campaign to address the lack of equity in this multi-billion dollar industry. It was an extremely stimulating convening of minds, aligned on holding Big Tech accountable. The start of an impactful, global coalition.

Gathering evidence

Mai El-Sadany, Executive Director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, explained how civil society organisations across the Middle East and North Africa are planning to capture their experiences of online violations and harms in the lead up to, during and after elections in a white paper which can be used to speak to policymakers and social media platforms.

We also heard from Sherylle Dass from the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa who reflected that in Africa, the role of Big Tech on elections had been underestimated –harms had already been evidenced most recently in the Kenyan elections. It’s vital to document what is happening, what localised solutions look like and what platform accountability looks like in multiple regions. As Alena from The London Story said “we’re collating the evidence of online harms for immediate AND future use – then we know what standards to abide by now for most progress in the future”.

Learning from each other

Antonia Staats from Avaaz shared how they have been fighting disinformation on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms in the run up to elections for the last five years. In 2018, they investigated the spread of disinformation on social media ahead of the Brazilian elections.

In 2019, it became clear that many EU decision makers didn’t (yet) understand the impact viral lies and conspiracy theories were having on democracy — and the European parliamentary elections. Avaaz reported 700 suspect pages and groups to Facebook, which took down 132 of those accounting for 762 million estimated views over 3 months.

And in 2020, Avaaz found that Facebook could have prevented an estimated 10 billion views on the 100 most prominent pages that repeatedly shared misinformation on the platform ahead of the US election that year. While numbers give a sense of scale, Antonia hammered home the importance of focusing on the human side of big tech harms, and making decision makers hear from real people.

Building a coalition

Our aim is to protect people and elections in 2024 from harms arising from unsafe social media platforms. This is why we’ll be collectively challenging Big Tech underinvestment and neglect outside their most lucrative Western markets. We’re building a flotilla movement on a mission where we have wisdom and strength in numbers, for lasting change.

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