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Amplifying underrepresented voices in global discussions to advance digital freedom

IDRC is partnering with the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) to expand the engagement of Global South experts in shaping norms and national legislation to address misinformation and gender-based violence online.
Faces at an online meeting
Researchers and partners discuss the importance of inclusion in efforts to advance democracy online in an event organized by IDRC.

The FOC is a group of 36 governments committed to advancing internet freedom and human rights online, including by countering online violence against women and LGBTQI+ populations.  

In 2022, when Canada served as its chair, the FOC launched the Ottawa Agenda — a set of recommendations to forge a pathway for the promotion of internet freedom, digital inclusion and human rights online.  

“Canada works with multiple stakeholders to advocate for the global governance of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence systems in accordance with existing international legal frameworks, including human rights and humanitarian law,” explained Tara Denham, the Director General for Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion at Global Affairs Canada. 

The Ottawa Agenda also calls for increased efforts to ensure underrepresented voices are part of the coalition’s conversations going forward. 

A new IDRC project, Advancing digital democracy: Bringing underrepresented voices to shape global norms, aims to synthesize IDRC-funded research to advance the FOC’s inclusion agenda, as well as position leaders from the Global South in discussions on advancing democracy in the digital age. 

In recent years, IDRC has built a solid foundation of research in the Global South, addressing issues related to digital technologies and democracy that are central themes for the 2022 Ottawa Agenda. This includes gender-based violence, responsible artificial intelligence, and misinformation and internet fragmentation.  

“Knowledge that's relevant and usable by the Global South when it comes to information disorder is emerging,” said Helani Galpaya from LIRNEasia. “But even in the Global North, which dominates the academic research around this, there isn’t enough evidence on practical solutions.” LIRNEasia works on the IDRC-funded Network on Countering Misinformation in the Global South, one of the largest studies of its kind on information disorder, which broadly includes misinformation, disinformation and fake news. 

IDRC Senior Program Specialist Ruhiya Seward said that information disorder and technology-facilitated gender-based online violence were identified in the Global South more than a decade ago. “Some of our partners have been talking about it and trying to get this understood. It is now, finally, entering the public consciousness,” said Seward. 

IDRC-funded research shows that online violence is on the rise internationally and leads to serious and negative impacts. Global data from an 18-country survey shows that nearly half of those who have been harassed reported an impact on their mental health and struggles with stress, anxiety or depression.  

Seward pointed out that negative impacts have far-reaching effects. “Online harassment has a real chilling effect on women’s ability to meaningfully participate in democratic engagement,” she said, adding that at a recent event held in Jordan, sponsored by Global Affairs Canada, all the female parliamentarians in the room said they had experienced some form of harassment online. 

The IDRC research project for the FOC will draw on a new phase of the global survey of tech-facilitated gender-based violence and other IDRC-funded research, including the Global Index for Responsible Artificial Intelligence