Connect the unconnected! | Media and Information Literacy Expert Network (MILEN) | DW | 21.01.2019
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Connect the unconnected!

Many groups are excluded from society and  we can see that also happening on the Internet in some ways. Read the complete interview with Eddie Ávila from "Rising Voices"

Many groups are excluded from society and  we can see that also happening on the Internet in some ways. “Rising Voices”, the digital inclusion arm of the organization “Global Voices”, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics and human rights activists, promotes the digital inclusion of under-represented and marginalized communities around the world. One of their projects works with indigenous communities working to revitalize their native language through Internet and digital technology by supporting them with training, mentoring and network building so that they can leverage the Internet to address needs that they identified.#mediadev spoke to “Rising Voices” Director, Eddie Ávila:

#mediadev: How do you define marginalized and underrepresented communities?
It’s hard to put that label on someone, but  perhaps  they self-identify that their community may be misrepresented in the media or underrepresented in certain fields. Barriers do exist in sectors of society, such as the – affordability or availability of the Internet that may lead to this underrepresentation online. In recent years, we have worked with a number of indigenous communities in Latin America , whose history with colonization, forced removal from their lands, and other injustices have obviously had lasting effects in the region’s societities. Our focus at "Rising Voices" includes working with these communities that want to adopt and adapt these digital technologies for their needs.  In this sense perhaps the internet can help level the playing field, even if it’s just a little big. They see the Internet as an opportunity to tell their own story, not wait for the media to come in and tell the story for them. Some our Media and Information Literacy (MIL)-related work has been focused on introducing data analysis tools to these communities and other groups as a way for them to better understand media representation of their communities or issues they care about. In addition to this MIL work, w work with digitally-savvy indigenous youth that are  revitalizing their native language through digital  technologies. We have a network of language activists, who are leveraging the digital tools to be  able to showcase their language and culture online. So their language and culture is reflected online  and not something from the past, but rather something from the present and the future. 

#mediadev: Do marginalized communities all live in remote areas?
Not necessarily. We work with all types of communitie We realize that there are still large segments of society that are unconnected, but we’re excited about organic solutions that are helping to mitigate this fact, such as the emergence of community networks. However, for the most part many of the communities with which we work have some degree of connectivity or knowledge about these tools. Perhaps they need additional support to introduce them to other ways to maximize these digital tools, so it could involve training, connections to like-minded groups, or other resources. ithin large urban centers there are also marginalized communities that may be related to socio-economic factors, indigenous groups, there are a lot of groups, which are excluded from society and also from the Internet in some ways.

#mediadev: How do you identify the communities?

We’ve had good luck with facilitating spaces for peer learning and exchange, and more often than not these open invitations have results in getting to know inspiring people and groups. For our language activism work, we’ve helped organize these gatherings in at least seven different countries and the response was much higher than our available space. In the past, we also ran a microgrant competition to fund and mentor small-scale digital outreach projects around the world. Again, the demand outnumbered the spots available, where we were only able to ultimately work 1% of those groups that applied. This is a model that we follow, where we want to hear directly from these communities proposing solutions for needs that they have identified, instead of a top-down model. 

#mediadev: What can the communities do if they and their issues are not represented?
Oh that’s the next step, it can start with an initial analysis about media representation, including on what’s there and what’s missing. We consider this a starting point for a conversation on how these communities or issues they care about may be represented in a selection of local or international media outlets. We specifically invite members of communities that may feel that they are misrepresented or underrepresented in media generally This analysis can help them reflect on their own work, which now includes maximizing the use of the internet for communication. Perhaps this analysis can help them adjust their communication strategy or position their community or issues in the media.

We are calling this project “Reframed Stories,” as it not only includes initial media analysis, but a media creation component that allows them to provide commentary on their findings. We work closely with a project called Media Cloud that has produced software the accesses a large database containing access to hundreds of millions of articles from media ecosystems from many countries.

We accompany communities that want to search how their community or issues they care about may have been represented in collection of media over a certain period. The platform produces visual data in the form of a word cloud displaying what words are more in use or not in use providing a starting point for discussions. By no means, what is produced is a definitive look at what media says because one must take into account the sources within the database, the time period searched, and even the terms entered into the platform.

In April and May of 2018 together with local partners, we ran a series of workshops in five countries: Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Chile. The communities with whom we worked included indigenous women, LGBTI activists, environmental activists, and others working with issues that are frequently underrepresented or misrepresented in their local media. In Bolivia, we worked with a group of activists working with the issue violence against women. Their initial searches about feminicide, which is a serious problem in Bolivian society produced a number of interesting word clouds. Their overall commentary centered on their conclusion that local Bolivian media focused too much on the crime itself, but seldom there were words about the outcome of the person that committed the crime. Were they eventually sentenced? Are they still in jail?  Seeing that objectively, seeing it online on word cloud it may force them to rethink their own perceptions. One of our facilitators also worked at the local newspaper, and I think that the feedback from the participants were eye-opening and the word cloud provided a more objective look at their coverage.

#mediadev: Let´s talk about media and information literacy which is also a focus of Rising Voices. Is there a growing awareness for the need of media literacy like in other regions of the world?
We probably see similarities. As with most parts of the developing world, there is an n increased amount of Internet activity, often made possible by the availability of smartphones and the use of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. , Information consumption is up, and more people have access to information now more than ever. But there are questions about who is responsible for helping them navigate this wealth of information? While Rising Voices does help provide training, support, and mentoring to many groups, we do so on a much smaller scale, but there is a need for this for society as a whole. 
People know that the news is toxic and they are trying to misinform or things like that. So I think people are aware that there is a problem in Latin America and see many concrete examples in their own contexts, but not really sure what to do about it. 

#mediadev: You are one of the 13 members of MILEN (Media and Information Literacy Expert Network). How do you get people become interested in MIL?
This network is a great opportunity to have those conversations with experts from other parts of the world. Of course contexts vary from country to country, but together with others in the network we can find commonalities in our work. What’s interesting about MIL is the fact that there are many different approaches, and showcasing examples of different initiatives can make this work more relatable.   

Many groups are excluded from society and we can see that also happening on the Internet in some ways. “Rising Voices” is the digital inclusion arm of “Global Voices”, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists,translators, academics and human rights activists. It promotes the digital inclusion of underrepresented and marginalized communities around the world. One of their projects works with indigenous communities working to revitalize their native language throgh Internet and digital technology by supporting them with training, mentoring and network building so that they can leverage the Internet to address needs that they identified. #mediadev spoke to "Rising Voice" Director, Eddie Ávila:

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