Who Writes The Rules: Shifted power narratives in internet governance

Six women took part in the Who Writes the Rules campaign

Ahead of the European Parliament’s drafting of the Digital Services Act in 2021, Digital Action launched Who Writes the Rules, a campaign profiling six women from the tech ecosystem to share personal stories of how the internet has excluded, oppressed and harmed them.

Why was the campaign needed?

In 2020, the #BrusselsIsSoWhite campaign highlighted how white and male the European Parliament really is, and the impact that is having on decision making. A Politico analysis of employees within the Commission provided an evidence base to what many had long assumed; that non-white Europeans are being systematically excluded from European decision and policymaking processes. We used this data to shine a light on marginalised voices.

“With social platforms, anyone with a phone can become a star, make money, connect with others, build a family of choice and acceptance, fall in love, and live a life they may not be allowed otherwise. [...] But these platforms weren’t made for us [non-white, non-Europeans or non-Americans]. Sexism, racism, misogynoir, anti-semitism, islamophobia, abelism, and transphobia are rampant.”

Hera Hussain, Founder & CEO, Chayn

How did we build the campaign?

Digital Action approached six women who between them research online abuse, run nonprofits to help refugee and immigrant women code, fight gender-based violence with tech, develop inclusive AI policy, campaign on women’s rights, and run tech companies.

These campaigners shared how the internet has changed from a place of opportunity, community and creativity, to one of oppression, from trolls, imagery and ads, hate speech, censorship and bias built into algorithms and AI that perpetuate a white cis-gender patriarchal view.

Through a series of creative tactics, including photos supported by Digital Action, the WWTR campaigners told their stories about the impact of inequitable EU policy-making, online censorship, algorithmic harm, decolonising digital rights, and how a technological utopia has failed to materialise — for Black women in particular.

In an open letter, the campaigners requested:

  • For the European Commission to publicly outline the indicators and accountability mechanisms it will adopt to ensure the DSA mitigates and ends the harms that racialised and marginalised women face.
  • For the European Commission to outline how it will continue to mitigate Big Tech’s impact on racialised and marginalised women, above and beyond the DSA, ensuring that implementation of the mechanisms mentioned above is as robust as the legislation.

Who was involved?

Their WhoWritesTheRules letter was supported by 34 signatories, including the Mozilla Foundation, the European Network Against Racism and the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

The campaign was amplified by partners including HateAid, OSEPI, Whose Knowledge?, European Centre for Not For Profit Law, Statewatch, EDRi, The Signals Network, Mozilla, People vs Big Tech, Luminate, European Data Journalists Network.

A peer at Ranking Digital Rights (RDR), an independent research program at the policy think tank New America, said “I’m so pleased to put an organizational face to the campaign. […] These [women] are exactly the type of experts we hope to work with. How exciting.”

The campaign helped Digital Action to extend its network further, and platform diverse female voices on the Digital Services Act. This inclusive approach to tech development and digital governance is a strong theme in Digital Action’s overall work.

This work was led at Digital Action by Temi Lasade-Anderson, who has since founded a Black Feminist internet lab.

Share this post