Mobile Devices and the Prevention of Human Rights Violations

Mobile Devices and the Prevention of Human Rights Violations

Ikbal Maulana (Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Indonesia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6939-8.ch001
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With mobile devices always in their possession, users can report breaking events, including the violation of human rights perpetrated by states. Mobile devices have given ordinary people the power to acquire and produce any information, which in turn make power more dispersed than before, reducing the power of the states. However, there is a worrying trend, namely, the increasing number of human rights violations by ordinary people. Since human rights violations by a mob are difficult to stop and the violations of human rights have grown out of prejudices, it is better to prevent the spread of prejudices as early as possible. It can be done by counter-mobilization of alternative narratives, and promotion of public awareness that anyone has multiple categories. Promoting mutual interdependence between groups will also reduce prejudices.
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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has reached 70 years in 2018, but human rights violations are still prevalent in various regions of the world despite also the many movements protesting against them. There is still serious gap between human rights in principle and those in practice. It is easy for anyone or government to come to an agreement “that every person anywhere in the world, irrespective of citizenship or territorial legislation, has some basic rights, which others should respect” (Sen, 2004). Formal commitments to international and regional human rights regimes have been made by most nation-states in the world, which in turn promulgate constitutions “that formally promise democratic institutions and the protection of human rights” (Keith, 2006). However, the states that are supposed to protect human rights of their citizens, unfortunately, are also their principal violators (Fagan, 2009).

It is assumed that the level of human rights protection is linked to the degree of democratization of a country. It is unlikely to have the one without the other. Governments and state organizations which have unchecked power may freely abuse their power and try to preserve their power at all cost. History shows that the changes of power relations often occurred violently, and were often preceded by the introduction of technologies to those previously powerless. In most cases, the technologies were weaponry, but could be other types of technologies as well. The changes of power relation in society during the industrial revolution, which reduced the power of landlords and increased the power of capitalists, were due to the introduction of steam engines. Political disruptions during the Arab Springs were due to the introduction of social media. There are technologies that change the power relations in society, which might lead Mumford (1967) to categorize technology, which also include the mechanical organization of people, into democratic and authoritarian ones. Their impact on power relations does not necessarily undermine a power structure, it can also preserve it (Feenberg, 1999).

Since power is in large part exercised through the control of information, media technology can be regarded as the determining technology in changing power relation. The invention of printing machine by Gutenberg democratize the access to information which previously had only become the privilege of elites. The rise of Martin Luther’s Reformation would be unthinkable without the availability of printing machine technology, and the Vietnamese and Indonesian Revolution were also heavily supported by the use of radio (Anderson, 2006). The Internet, more specifically social media, has facilitated people with cheap media to communicate and coordinate their social and political movements, such as the case of Arab Spring (Jamali, 2015).

The importance of information access on human rights protection can be seen from “The fact that authoritarian orders are typically quite afraid of uncensored news media and of uncurbed public discussion, which make them resort often enough to suppression (including censorship, intimidation, incarceration, and even execution), provides some indirect evidence that the influence of public reasoning can indeed be quite large” (Sen, 2004). Making public information open and easy to access is a way to make government accountable and reduce their capacity to abuse power.

The Internet and the technologies that are built upon and connected to it seem to give promise of increasing democratization. Social media eases information sharing among Internet users, and mobile devices used to access social media make Internet users permanently and ubiquitously connected to their social network as well as their main source of information. Through social media they can represent themselves without the help of any representative (Maulana, 2017). Having a mobile phone equipped with camera, any user can instantly report any event she sees or experiences. States which were in the past unchallenged violators of human rights are now being constantly monitored by ordinary citizens armed with mobile phones that can capture events in photographs and videos and instantly publish them on the Internet. Being massively observed by their citizens, states will be made more accountable and strongly constrained to abuse power. Mobile devices have made power more distributed and increased the bargaining power of citizen’s vis-à-vis the state. Even strong authoritarian governments now have to mobilize the support of their people more than ever.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Prejudice: Antipathy or negative attitude toward other people/groups which may be caused by either false belief or interest-motivated mobilization.

Categorization: The thinking process in which ideas and objects are grouped into categories, usually to simplify the process of understanding.

Information Overload: Exposure to too much information which is beyond the cognitive capacity of an individual.

Outgroup: A group defined by members of ingroup as those people beyond the boundary of and in competition with ingroup.

Ingroup: A group of people who can use the term “we” collectively and with the same significance, and share similar interest, beliefs, traditions, or fates.

Technological Immediacy: The quality of bringing one into instant involvement with something which is caused by the use of technology, giving rise to a sense of urgency and excitement that is difficult to resist.

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