We spend an enormous amount of time and energy considering how to use digital tools in our work. To make it better, faster, cheaper, more fun, more addictive, more exciting and so on. Some of us also spend time considering how to improve data protection, privacy, rights, security, portability and so on. There are discussion spaces for all of these. Whole conferences even. Most of operate from the viewpoint that has underlying aspects of ‘access to knowledge and free speech can enable to people to grow and improve their lives.’
And then last night happens and I am reminded of how rarely we talk of the other side of the freedom coin – responsibility. Last night, the England mens team lost to Italy in the Euros football final. They lost in penalty shoot outs. And it happened to be three young black men who either had their shot saved or missed. And the online abuse went wild. Racist abuse skyrocketed. It’s nothing new unfortunately, but moments like last night highlight it. Digital interconnectivity amplifies it exponentially. The racist comment made while sitting on the sofa swearing at the TV is now tweeting to millions and targeting individuals. It is added to others, encouraged by others, and the single snowflake becomes a torrid avalanche of horror.
And of course it’s not just football. It’s in politics, schools, playgrounds, workplaces, and everywhere. And it’s in aid too. But here’s the tricky thing. Many of us in aid want to help others be connected because there is value and opportunities in being connected. However, what most of fail to do is spend as much time figuring out how to curb abuse, exploitation, and the horrors of connectivity as we do connecting people.
Figuring out together how to live wisely in a digital world shouldn’t be an afterthought, it likely should be core to our work. It is much easier to connect people, to give them access to the digital world and create digital tools, than it is to make the tools a force of good. We should not turn our back to the abuse digital facilitates, especially as this past year more children have been connected than ever before.
Amplifying hate has never been our intent and yet is a by product. Spending more time addressing this needs to be part our agenda too.