Liberation Technology and Digital Activism

by Mary Joyce (updated)

Liberation technology is “any form of information and communication technology that can expand political, social, and economic freedom”. It is the focus of a new program at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and the subject of an excellent article by Larry Diamond in the July issue of the Journal of Democracy (PDF h/t Patrick Meier) .

I see liberation technology as having a certain overlap with digital activism in campaigns that support the values of freedom, but there are important distinctions. Digital activism is defined as “the practice of using digital technology to increase the effectiveness of a social or political change campaigns.” However, the particular change outcome of a digital activism campaign is quite broad. In some cases, such as those described in the destructive activism chapter of Digital Activism Decoded (PDF), the goals of these campaigns are counter the interests of freedom.

In addition, as its name implies, liberation technology takes the applications and devices of digital activism – the technology itself – as the the lens through which this phenomena is viewed. Digital activism broadly writ includes the technology element but can be seen through a variety of lenses, such as social movement theory, which focuses on the actions of groups of individuals and sees the tools they use as merely instrumental.

Finally, liberation technoology can exist outside the bounds of activism. The Ministry of Health allowing patients to access their personal health files online would increase freedom of information, yet it is not an example of activism, which is generally extra-institutional. Likewise, a farmer using a mobile phone to learn market prices for his produce gains economic freedom through his technology use, but is not engaged in a campaign for social or political change.

My interest in studying digital activism is founded on a fundamental belief in human agency, that we must understand digital activism better so that we can make intervention to increase its effectiveness in promoting the causes of freedom, justice, and human dignity. As such, the cause of liberation technology is near and dear to my heart. I am really looking forward to seeing how Stanford’s new program – and this new field – develops.

Image: Program on Liberation Technology

5 thoughts on “Liberation Technology and Digital Activism

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