China, New Media, the Internet and Human Rights

From 12-13 September 2013 AHRCentre Project Director Daniel Joyce attended the Sixth Beijing Forum on Human Rights with a wide range of international and local participants. His paper examined the transformative potential of the Internet and social media in terms of human rights protection and awareness. A longer version of the paper will be published as an article “Media Witnesses: Human Rights in an Age of Digital Media” in the Intercultural Human Rights Law Review.

His presentation in Beijing focused on the case study of Kony 2012 to illustrate the potential of new media to enhance human rights activism, participation and advocacy. The paper also addressed criticisms of such online campaigns in terms of their ability to maintain our attention and to develop the deeper forms of connection necessary for meaningful action.

The broader argument Daniel made at the Forum, and in its group discussions, was that, despite these criticisms, the Internet and new media offer important avenues for participation and human rights advocacy, and that increased online activity in China is valuable in this regard and should be encouraged.

Regrettably his views were subsequently misrepresented by the Xinhua news service in reports indicating that he supported better regulation of the Internet in the context of China’s Internet crackdown and criminalisation of ‘online rumours’. This is simply not the case. Daniel sees these new laws as dangerous and a threat to freedom of expression online and to Internet freedom itself.