Digital Security in Indigenous and Minority Language Communities: A Rising Voices Research Project

Digital security is a complex problem that is evolving rapidly and impacting they way communities around the world communicate and participate in culture, politics, civics, and in all dimensions of society. Security incidents such as email and social media hacking, data loss, identity theft, phishing, and several forms of online violence, affect the digitally mediated activities people develop and have a negative impact in the processes of technology appropriation. Since multiple inequalities intersect in the digital security problem, some of the most affected populations are precisely the ones that historically have been marginalized and excluded. Minority and indigenous language communities, in particular, confront several challenges in relation to digital security that are directly related to existing inequalities of access to technology, knowledge, financial resources, and uneven development of digital and information literacies.

From 2021 to 2022 I had the opportunity of participating, as a lead researcher, in the Digital Security + Language project, a collaboration among Rising Voices, the digital inclusion arm of Global Voices, and a diverse group of language digital activists from around the world. As a participatory research project, our goal was to collaborate with activists and support their inquiry process exploring a range of questions about the intersection of digital security and linguistic diversity. How do activists and communities speaking indigenous, marginalized, and low-resource languages navigate the digital media ecosystem and confront security risks? How do they perceive digital security? What kind of security practices do they develop? How is digital security related to other digital inequalities related to access, knowledge, and skills that characterize their contexts? What are their most urgent digital security challenges and needs?

Using a participatory and collaborative research approach, the Digital Security + Language project combined different methodologies and developed in two phases. During the first phase we designed and conducted a survey among 62 members of Rising Voices’ network of language digital activists, representing indigenous, minority, and low-resourced language communities around the world. As a research instrument, we designed the survey to understand the digital security practices and media ecosystems of minority language communities, exploring five dimensions: technology access, digital practices, digital security practices, education and training, and political and social context. Based on the results of this phase, the Rising Voices team invited some of the activists that completed the survey to collaborate, as co-researchers, in the production of case studies about digital security issues in their local communities.

For the second phase, we collaborated with 18 language activists from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and accompanied their inquiry process. During this phase, we engaged in a participatory process supporting this group of co-researchers during all the stages of case study research process (research design, field work, analysis, report writing). This collaboration expanded for several months, and involved the deployment of several online activities such as methodology workshops, group meetings, and presentations, and the production of several resources to guide and support the research process (e.g. methodology guides, toolkits, protocols). Moreover, our Rising Voices team maintained constant communication with the co-researchers during all the process using chat channels we built on the Slack platform.

Situated in Latin America, Asia and Africa, these 18 activists, in collaboration with the project team, designed their own research projects to analyze digital security and safety in their local communities, especially in relation to multiple inequalities, and conducted field work during the span of several weeks. At the end of their research process they wrote case study reports to document what they learned, and communicate their findings and recommendations to their communities and to a wider audience that included policy makers, technologists, and other activists. Based on these reports, and in collaboration with Maria Malvido, our project editor/writer, the co-researchers co-produced 18 articles/stories that have been published online on the Rising Voices platform. Each article is available in Spanish, English, and the respective local languages (Angika, Dagbani, Eastern Tharu, Gĩkũyũ, Kichwa, Igbo, IsiZulu, Mapudungun, Mixe, Odia, Sesotho, Torwali, Twi, Yorùbá, Maya Kaqchikel, Yucatec Maya, Wayuunaiki, and Zapotec).

Below are links to the articles, organized by continent and language. I invite you to read these stories and get a glimpse into the lived experiences and contexts, challenges and needs that indigenous and minority language communities are confronting as they navigate the complexities of digital security. Each article includes illustrations created by artists from their communities.

*More information about the project, the Rising Voices support team, and the language activists that participated is available on the project website.

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