Technology and Human Rights / Clyde Ford

Clyde Ford book cover

Technology and Human Rights

“How many of you want to have a positive impact on the world? To fight climate change? To advocate for racial justice? To actively work for gender equality? LGBTQ rights? Income equality?” Clyde Ford asks his audience— young, idealistic, full of students. Most hands shoot up. 

“For those of you with your hands up, please lower them if you have not changed your social media habits recently.” Ford asks. “If you’re on Facebook every day, or Twitter, or Instagram, or WhatsApp, or any of the other popular social media platforms. Lower your hand if you use Chrome, or Firefox, or Edge, or Internet Explorer, or Safari, or any browser other than Tor. Also, lower your hands if you’re using Gmail as your principal email account.” By this time most hands are down. 

“That’s why I’m here,” Ford says, “to peer with you into this gap between our aspirations for social justice, social change, and human rights, and the technology we’re using that often works directly against those aspirations.” 

Next Ford asks the audience to pull out their cellphones. “Tweet someone you know,” he suggests, “even better, someone also in this room.” 

As the audience draws smartphones to their faces, Ford flips open his laptop, drags a Twitter icon onto a map of his present location. Suddenly, a rosette of faces and Tweets burst forth from the center of the icon. The audience giggles and gasp as they recognize themselves and their Tweets on the large screen Ford’s projecting onto. By the time he next brings up a densely packed graph of Twitter users, their Tweets, and their followers, the audience is stunned and silent. 

“The software to capture your social media presence is pretty easy to write,” Ford says. “I wrote it.” 

Then, with the story of his father, John Stanley Ford, the first Black software engineer in America, as background, Ford delves into the dark side of high-technology. He describes in detail little-known stories of high-tech’s central role in the worst human rights abuses of the modern age—eugenics, the Holocaust, apartheid, and racial profiling. He draws parallels between this use of technology and what’s happening today on the Internet, with social media, and with software algorithms in general. How activists are spied on. How voters are manipulated. How algorithms are design with built-in bias. But, Ford also makes a series of recommendations about what must change. Though challenging and sometimes unnerving, this presentation contains essential information for all those concerned about the use of technology in support of human rights, rather than in support of human rights abuses. 

Clyde W. Ford is an award-winning author of 12 works of fiction and non-fiction. He’s also a psychotherapist, mythologist, and sought-after public speaker. Clyde is the recipient of the 2006 Zora Neale Hurston-Richard Wright Award in African American Literature. He’s been a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, National Public Radio, and numerous television and radio programs.

Category : Diversity and Multicultural &Media and History &Social Justice &Speakers &Technology/Social Media

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