How Technology Can Help Human Rights

by Marcus Chan, SFGate, The Tech Chronicles, May 5, 2010

So it turns out that the popular Flip video camera is good for more than just capturing YouTube stunts or your son’s soccer game. And the virtual world of Second Life is more than a place to hook up. Try using those technologies to advance human rights.

These were just a couple of examples mentioned at The Soul of the New Machine, a conference hosted by UC Berkeley to showcase how technology and new media are being used to promote justice and human rights around the world.

Of course, exposure of abuses — be it in the form of video, photos, virtual reality, etc. — is just the first step.

“Often, people think that just showing the video is enough, but what is important … is that actions can be taken toward an objective,” said panelist Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, executive director of Witness, an international human rights organization. Those actions could include providing an online petition for viewers to sign or ways for people to organize.

Witness’ strategy is to use video and online technologies to turn personal stories of abuse into tools for pushing policy change. The group trains activists in countries such as Ethiopia to use the Flip camcorder and other devices (but Flip provides both the portability and immediacy of distribution necessary in dangerous situations). The organization has 3,000 hours of archived human rights footage.