Crowdsourcing Freedom

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Post by Guest on Wed Mar 18, 2015 8:24 am

David Keyes is the executive director of Advancing Human Rights and has been called a “pioneer in online activism” by The New York Times.  He is working to find new ways to spread political freedom globally, and he recently launched as a crowdsourcing human rights platform. Movements gives people the ability to connect directly with activists on the front lines.
David and I spoke about tyranny, radicalism, and how we all can help defend the rights of vulnerable people elsewhere in the world.
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Harris: Please tell our readers more about Movements and about why you launched it.

Keyes: Movements is a crowdsourcing platform that links human rights activists from closed societies with people around the world who can help them. It’s a new approach to an old problem. Uber, Amazon, Craigslist, and Airbnb all recognized that there are millions and millions of people who need something and millions and millions of people who have something. By taking out the middleman, these platforms allow for many more organic connections to be made. We’re doing the same for human rights. New technologies aren’t the solution to radicalism and tyranny, but when used smartly, they can help empower moderates around the globe.

The challenge in human rights has changed dramatically over the past few decades. During the Soviet period, for example, the free world did not know what was happening behind the Iron Curtain. Dissidents would smuggle out rare pieces of samizdat, or underground literature, to alert the world about the gulag archipelago. Much of it was published by Advancing Human Rights’ chairman, Robert Bernstein, who also founded Human Rights Watch and headed Random House for 25 years.
Today, by contrast, everyone knows what is happening in Syria, because a YouTube video of a slaughter is uploaded every few minutes. ISIS proudly shows its videos of beheading journalists, including a few friends of mine. There isn’t exactly a lack of information. The challenge has morphed from getting information out of closed societies to getting help in.

I took over Movements in 2012, when it was hosting conferences for digital activists and writing how-to guides. We got some funding from Google, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what innovations were most needed in human rights. It struck me that there were so many activists living under dictatorships who desperately needed help and were not getting it. Traditional approaches fell far short of the demand.
Hundreds of billions of dollars from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, and China are funding forces of regression and radicalism. Many more people need to be mobilized if we are to challenge these influences. And so I decided to build a crowdsourcing platform to do just that.

We launched it a few months ago, and tens of thousands of human rights activists have come to the site. People are getting help every day. North Korean defectors connect with technologists; former Iranian political prisoners write to policymakers; Syrian refugees get representation from lawyers; the Russian opposition and Pussy Riot collaborate with songwriters in New York to make a music video commemorating slain Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky; An Assyrian whose hometown was overtaken by ISIS was highlighted by major Western media..

Members of parliament in Canada and Australia speak to democratic dissidents from Syria and Iran. Several US senators use Movements to hear directly from formerly jailed democracy activists. The only Russian member of parliament to vote against Putin’s annexation of Crimea is connecting with media.  A former Iranian minister is on Movements to highlight the brutality of the current regime. There are many more success stories. Crowdsourcing is a far more efficient and effective way of getting help to those in need.


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