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Community Voices: Leveraging social media for digital rights in Palestine

The Community Voices series highlights the work of our community — civil society organizations, governments, companies, human rights defenders, and startups — in the lead up to, during, and after RightsCon.

7amleh – The Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media – is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of the digital rights of Palestinians and Arabs. Since its founding in  2013, 7amleh has spearheaded efforts to leverage digital advocacy tools for expanding awareness, knowledge, and access to digital rights amongst Palestinian and Arab civil society. The organization relies on three pillars in pursuit of this goal: capacity building, outreach and advocacy, and campaigns.

Based in Haifa, the organization’s reach is extensive – in 2018 alone it trained over 1,500 youth in digital security across a number of cities. According to Nadim Nashif, Executive Director, the goal of this professional capacity building and training is to “strengthen local civil society, activists and the public in defending, protecting and advocating for their digital rights, and to further digital activism.”  

7amleh takes a comprehensive approach to developing its training programs. In 2018 the organization conducted a survey across more than 100 organizations working throughout the region that identified the challenges and needs for training and capacity building. The results highlighted issues such as the dearth of funding and specialized experts to  problems with accessing a targeted group or running social media pages. This underscored the growing importance of digital strategies within the various organizations. As the only organization working specifically to advance digital rights in the region, 7amleh fills the vacuum by providing continuous capacity building, through trainings on digital campaigning, digital marketing, digital security, and management of social media for nonprofits.

The campaigns carried out by 7amleh make use of social media to disseminate its work to a broad audience and raise awareness about barriers users may face to the full enjoyment of their digital rights. Past campaigns have included research reports on social media companies’ complicity in violations of digital rights, focusing on the discriminatory practices perpetrated by Facebook and Google Maps, as well as PayPal against Palestinians. These types of reports serve as the basis for further advocacy and demands that companies adhere to human rights norms.

7amleh’s efforts at the local level are part of a broader commitment to promote adherence to digital rights worldwide. As part of its outreach and advocacy work, 7amleh participates in international fora and coalitions that prioritize the empowerment and realization of these digital rights; however, the organization doesn’t only attend and participate in events, it also hosts them. In January, 7amleh hosted its third annual flagship event, the Palestine Digital Activism Forum, which welcomed over 700 participants, as well as speakers and trainers from around the world, on the first day of the three-day event. The forum featured panels and discussion sessions as well as workshops throughout historic Palestine with the goal of exchanging experiences to develop digital activism in a manner that is both positive and constructive.

As digital rights activism comes to play an increasingly important role in MENA – where technology can facilitate civic engagement when repressive laws and practices undercut the freedom of expression and hurt collaborative public spheres – 7amleh is completing work and raising awareness through its various campaigns and trainings. This work is being carried out in spite of the constraints the organization faces due to the judicial systems and political structures currently in place in the region. Looking forward to RightsCon in June, Nashif notes that “For 7amleh, this platform gives the possibility to bring the specific issues faced by Palestinians to the foreground.”

Holding the world’s leading event on human rights in the digital age in Tunis provides a key opportunity for organizations and individuals from across the region to come together to strategize and share best practices. In pursuit of a more equitable, inclusive, and rights-respecting world, RightsCon endeavors to break down the silos and barriers — sectoral, geographic, and otherwise — that might typically prevent stakeholders from coming together.

To learn more about 7amleh’s various campaigns and read its publications you can visit the 7amleh website. 7amleh welcomes any organization or individual to share its materials, both research and policy papers, as well as joining the campaigns and cooperating with 7amleh to advocate for adherence to globally recognized human rights for all, locally and worldwide.