The RightsCon 2022 Call for Proposals: results, trends, and what comes next

➔ Regional and language diversity

➔ Trends to watch

➔ Next steps

RightsCon’s Call for Proposals is a testament to the power of collective action for human rights in the digital age. Every year, hundreds of people from around the world – activists, technologists, business leaders, policymakers, journalists, and more – submit session proposals for consideration into our community-centered program. Taken as a whole, these proposals illustrate what we hold in common, and the hard-won victories, stories of change, and ideas for the future that connect our network across borders and boundaries.

As we gear up for the 11th edition of RightsCon (June 6-10, 2022), we want to provide a first look at the results of the Call for Proposals, and what you can expect from our program in 2022. The numbers tell a story about our community, our shared priorities and challenges in the digital sphere, and our renewed momentum to secure human rights for all as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We received 1170+ proposals from 815+ host institutions for RightsCon 2022, an 11 percent increase from 2021. Session proposers came from 112 countries – the most ever recorded for our program – with 11 countries represented for the first time, and substantial increases in participation from Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

We’re proud to continue our legacy as a gender-diverse summit, with 57 percent of proposers identified as women and 2.5 percent identified as nonbinary, bigender, agender, or genderfluid. This year, in line with our equity and inclusion efforts, we also introduced several new gender identity options to our proposal form to ensure everyone in our community feels welcomed and represented.

The diverse voices represented in the Call for Proposals show the consistent strength of our program and our civil society-led platform, as a space where stakeholders across regions and sectors can come together to address the most pressing human rights and technology issues. Of the proposals received, 67 percent came from returning members of our network, while 44 percent came from people who have submitted a session before. As we work to expand RightsCon’s visibility and accessibility to new communities, we’re heartened to see many participants continue to engage and connect with our summit, year after year.

Behind the numbers: RightsCon’s reach within and across regions

The Call for Proposals reflects the global audience and reach of our summit, and in our 11th edition, we tracked progress across the board in ensuring that the program balances regional perspectives and interests.

We look holistically within and across regions in our analysis, beyond the simplistic dichotomy of Global North and South terminology; however, if that lens is applied to the Call for Proposals, we find that 43 percent of session proposers identified as “South” and 56 percent as “North”. While parity has not yet been achieved, we see important indications of success in our efforts to achieve more equitable representation and redistribute power to those who are most affected by the digital rights issues at hand.

We received proposals from 16 new countries, compared to 2021, many of which are located in the Caribbean, Central Asia, and West Africa. With the transition to an online summit in 2020, our team stepped up our community support and outreach to increase participation from Africa and MENA countries, in order to address particular security, connectivity, and language barriers for these regions. As a result of these efforts, the number of proposals from Africa nearly doubled (from 95 in 2021 to 172 in 2022), encompassing about 13.6 percent of all sessions submitted. Similarly, proposals from the MENA region increased by 24 percent (from 41 to 69), with 17 countries represented.

We also noted a slight increase in non-English proposals, from 68 to 81. In addition to Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, and French, we received proposals in less common languages, such as Russian, Afrikaans, and Farsi (Persian). As we look toward the future of the Call for Proposals, we recognize the need to provide more multilingual and translated content, and expand options throughout the program process for those who speak other languages. These considerations are front of mind for our team, and we welcome input and ideas on steps that we can take to improve the linguistic diversity of our program.

What topics can you expect to see at RightsCon 2022? One of the most visible trends in the Call for Proposals is a focus on the intersecting impacts of digital authoritarianism and transnational repression on our human rights. From internet shutdowns and slowdowns, to online censorship and media crackdowns, to the exportation of spyware and other surveillance technologies, the varied tactics of authoritarian regimes and autocrats is a key concern for our community, likely driven by the revelations of the Pegasus Project. If you’re interested and invested in these issues, keep an eye out for sessions accepted from our program categories on civil society resilience, internet shutdowns, online hate, and privacy.

Prominent disclosures from Frances Haugen, Sophie Zhang, and others have led to a renewed emphasis on whistleblower protections and advocacy in the technology sector. These actions correspond to an uptick in labor and union activity at major companies, such as Alphabet, Medium, and Amazon, potentially as a result of mass resignations, supply chain disruptions, and other upheavals to work and business standards since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does the “metaverse” really mean? The Call for Proposals delivers answers to that question, with proposals focused on privacy and security in virtual worlds, interoperability and regulation across private sector platforms, lessons learned from video game technology, and next steps for AR and VR integration. Related proposals on blockchain technology, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the concept of “Web3” explore the promises and pitfalls of a decentralized web, and ground technosolutionist narratives in practical and technical realities.

As concerns about content governance and platform overreach spill into the mainstream, we also see these interests clash and combine with the aims of anti-gender movements, who aim to restrict access to information about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and push back on the critical advances of feminist and LGBTQ+ activists around the world. Proposals submitted for RightsCon 2022 point to increasing threat of censorship, via shadowbanning and downranking “sensitive” content, which has stymied the efforts of queer and trans advocates, medical abortion providers, and sex workers.

We also see a collective push from organizations to standardize resources on digital security and open source intelligence (OSINT). Session proposers seek to teach experts worldwide to collaborate, share best practices and case studies, and build tailored training guides and materials for journalists, activists, software developers, and more. Further, funders and grantmakers show commitment to education about digital resilience and rapid response capacity, with other proposals dedicated to investment in public interest technology and open source software development.

Next steps?

If you submitted a session idea for RightsCon 2022, our team will notify you about the final status of your proposal in early April. We value the time and effort that you put into your proposal, and from February to March, our team will work closely with the Program Committee, a panel of 60+ experts from around the world, to carefully review and select sessions for our program.

Did you know that registration for RightsCon 2022 is now open, with early bird tickets available until March 11, 2022? To ensure RightsCon remains open and accessible to as many people as possible, we will also continue to offer direct financial support through our Connectivity Fund. Applications are due by April 22 at 23:59 Pacific Time – don’t miss out!

If you have any other questions about the Call for Proposals, registration for RightsCon 2022, or the Connectivity Fund, send us an email at [email protected], and a member of our team will be in touch soon.

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