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Human Rights in the Digital Age

Watch CGHR Research Associate, Dr Ella McPherson introduce the research theme Human Rights in the Digital Age. 


CGHR's Human Rights in the Digital Age theme addresses the emergent and rapidly evolving changes wrought to human rights practices and norms by the use of digital technologies. With respect to practices, this includes human rights fact-finding and advocacy; with respect to norms, this includes human rights related to communication, information and expression. The research and activities under this theme approach human rights from a communications perspective and, as such, are particularly concerned with pluralism. Another core concept of the theme is risk, given the rapidly evolving digital terrain and the challenges it poses for security.  

An empirical focus of this theme is the role of social media in human rights work, under study in Ella McPherson's Social Media, Human Rights NGOs, and the Potential for Governmental Accountability project and in the development of The Whistle, a digital reporting platform for civilian witnesses of human rights violations. The theme benefits from practitioner collaborations, such as the ICTs and Right to Life project with Christof Heyns and the Encryption and Human Rights workshop with Amnesty International. In 2016, the theme launched the Human Rights in the Digital Age: CGHR Practitioner Papers series.

Social Media and Human Rights 

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This project's central aim is to critically understand the potential of social media for human rights NGOs' pursuit of governmental accountability. The research is concerned with the methodological and reputational implications of using social media as data sources and dissemination tools, as well as with social media's effects on pluralism in human rights discourse. 

Find out more about the project.

Encryption, Anonymity & Human Rights Workshop, co-hosted by CGHR and Amnesty International


Given the increasingly digital nature of human rights communication, the importance of encryption for human rights work is escalating. Understanding the possibilities and pitfalls of encryption are key to using it successfully, while not understanding encryption can generate unprecedented risks for human rights work. Amnesty International and CGHR invited a number of scholars and practitioners from the human rights community to a one-day workshop in dialogue with scholars and practitioners working on the rapidly-evolving technical, legal, and political aspects of encryption.  

The aim of the workshop was to foster knowledge exchange between participants with an eye to uncovering the central opportunities and risks for human rights work as well as potential areas for collaboration.

Read a summary of the workshop.

ICTs and the Right to Life


This 2014/15 project brought together CGHR's work on the Right to Life and Human Rights in the Digital Age. Dr Ella McPherson, a CGHR Research Associate, led a study into the implications of ICTs for Professor Heyns' mandate, ahead of a report to the Human Rights Council. 

Find out more about the project.


Tumblr blog: #ICT4HR

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As part of the ICTs and the Right to Life project, the student team assembled a multi-authored Tumblr blog aggregating their research into technologies, tactics, and case studies of the use of ICTs in human rights work.

This resource is intended to be a reference point for how ICTs are being incorporated into the prevention of human rights violations as well as into fact-finding and advocacy practices. The team have categorised the material by hashtag. Short write-ups include key features and links, while longer authored pieces take a more in-depth look, considering aspects such as ownership, risks and opportunities, as well as the key consideration of pluralism – namely, who is included and who is excluded by use of the technology in question.

This is a live resource, as the student team will continue to update it as they hear of new examples. They welcome recommendations for inclusion; please message the site via Tumblr.

Watch the launch of the Tumblr blog.

The Whistle

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The Whistle is a digital platform under development for the civilian witness reporting of human rights violations. Much optimism exists around social media as a channel for the civilian reporting of human rights violations from closed contexts, such as the torrent of YouTube videos emanating from Syria. Yet the verification of this social media information takes time and expertise – and human rights NGOs must be able to verify it to act on it. The Whistle aims to support the verification process to make it easier for human rights NGOs to use digital information from civilian witnesses. Ella McPherson and Scott Limbrick are working on developing The Whistle prototype with funding from Cambridge’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

Visit The Whistle website.