The Technologies and Politics of Justice Claims in Practice
Ronald Niezen


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Utopia and Despair
chapter abstract

In the new, technologically rich era of human rights, expressions of hope and pessimism are often expressed with equal conviction in the "dialectics of despair." The use of algorithms and artificial intelligence may be advancing the protection of human rights in some ways, but new information technologies have also been applied toward repression, misinformation, and human rights abuse. The new phase of human rights will not be fully understood if it does not consider the ways that new technologies are interacting with the old. The key to understanding the impacts of information technologies on human rights is not in an exclusive focus on sophisticated, expert-driven forms of data management, but in considering how these technologies are interacting with other, "traditional" forms of media to produce new avenues of expression, public sympathy, redress of grievances, and sources of the self.

1 Street Justice
chapter abstract

Human rights offer a source of inspiration for the public expression of grievance supported by the illicit, ancient technology associated with using public space as a tableau of communication. Graffiti—which includes one-off "tags" as well as the repeated messages of "stencil" and "sticker" graffiti—is used in public space as a way to draw attention to causes and encourage viewers to visit obscure web sites. Illegality is an inherent aspect of this medium, above all as a way to capture the viewers' attention. This chapter highlights the connections between graffiti and online justice lobbying, adding a new dimension to a form of expression from the social margins that has its origins in the ancient world.

2 Human Rights 3.0
chapter abstract

The history of human rights can be understood not only through shifts in global moral outlook, but with reference to the technologies through which justice claims are communicated. In these terms, human rights are entering a third historical phase, human rights 3.0, facilitated by rapidly increasing amounts of online data, the growing sophistication of tools for searching and making use of "big data," and the application of algorithms and artificial intelligence to questions of policing, rights compliance, investigation of mass crimes, and awareness-raising. Information technology has become both a remedy for the most insidious crimes against humanity and a vehicle for their perpetration. New technologies are moving human rights toward a greater reliance on specialized technical knowledge, institutional infrastructural support, and donor financing. These conditions are producing new forms of activism, often involving corporate sponsorship, that are increasingly shaped by commercial interests and technologically empowered elites.

3 Belling the Cat
chapter abstract

Misinformation and control of the internet are technologically-empowered strategies of state-sanctioned informational aggression and prosecutorial immunity. In this social media-rich ecosystem, open source intelligence (OSINT) is emerging as a new source of "truth," with implications for professional practice in journalism and international criminal law. The Bellingcat collective has conducted several high-profile investigations that have captured global attention, particularly the Russian-backed downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukrainian airspace in 2014. In the process, it has demonstrated how the use of publicly available digital platforms and crowdsourcing can be applied toward war crimes investigations. Organizations dedicated to rigorous investigations and archiving evidence of war crimes are now making a transition in their goals from journalism to providing evidence that meets the standards of the International Criminal Court.

4 Shouting Above the Noise
chapter abstract

The increased speed and reach of new information technologies are intensifying efforts toward claims recognition in a wide range of justice campaigns, using a variety of media technologies. "Rank ordering" is both a phenomenon produced by big tech and a metaphor for the central challenge of rights recognition. At the same time, online networking has a tendency to create enclosures of identity and opinion, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the "echo chamber" or "filter bubble." There is an insidious kind of market logic to claiming recognition of human rights violations, with sympathy as a limited currency in competition with other claimants. Under these circumstances, human rights claims have become increasingly beholden to the fleeting attentions and sympathies of public consumers of information. In response to these circumstances, the collective identities of justice claimants are curated with reference to images and stories that are understood to have wide popular appeal.

5 Media War
chapter abstract

The Tuaregs were highly media savvy in their representation of their claims and identity in web sites, digital broadcasts, and social media. This was not enough, however, to bring public attention to the urgency of their crisis during a chaotic conflict in the central Sahara. Major media outlets focused on jihadism and violent secessionism, thus overwhelming the voices of moderate human rights advocates, whose quest for autonomy and attention to conditions of forced displacement and mass killing went mostly unheard. This case raises a comparative question: How, in morally complex conditions of warfare, are some states able to control the media and shape the perceptions and judgments of publics in ways that systematically violate human rights standards? This case illustrates the limits of the "public" quality of human rights claims and the capacity of remote, largely anonymous audiences to serve as reference points for peacemaking.

6 The Politics of Memory
chapter abstract

Facebook is not merely a social media giant based on exploitation of users' data; it can shape victim identities and host "counter-monuments," digital manifestations of resonant political symbols and justice claims. This can be seen especially clearly in the lobbying of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation and its claims against Germany and German corporations that extend back to the period of colonial occupation in the early twentieth century. Germans tend to be reluctant to recognize crimes of the state that extend earlier than the Holocaust. In response to this reluctance, Ovaherero and Nama activists have made use of a vibrant postcolonial movement in Germany that is focused on German museum ethics and demanding repatriation of the human remains stolen during the genocide of 1904-1908. These claims of historical genocide thus receive powerful impetus from very contemporary conditions of deprivation and political marginalization.

Conclusion: Truth and Power
chapter abstract

How are the technologies of data management and social media influencing the ways that justice claimants are resisting the crimes of the state? One part of the answer turns to the growing technical specialization required for effective human rights campaigning, monitoring, and compliance. This trend exacerbates the reliance on technology and the effects of elitism in the pursuit of justice claims. Another part of the answer looks to the everyday use of "old media" in efforts of outreach and persuasion. Those who are sidelined by the need for technical expertise do not always abandon their causes but find ways, grounded in simple technologies, to bring them to public attention. The acts and artifacts of collective justice lobbying bring attention to a pervasive sense of justice that is at the foundation of the human rights movement, and that transcends its major institutions and formal mechanisms of compliance.