16 November 2016

Supporting human rights with social media

Students at the University of Essex are helping human rights organisations harness the power of social media by taking part in a new global initiative coordinated by Amnesty International.

Six students from the School of Law will be part of the Digital Verification Corps – which featured in the New Scientist this week - which will see them assess whether images posted on social media can be used for documenting suspected human rights abuses.

Jenna Dolecek

Jenna Dolecek

Four of the students, who are members of Essex’s Human Rights Clinic, will also develop a verification guide which will be used by human rights actors around the world.

Dr Daragh Murray, of the Human Rights Centre, said: “By taking part in this project, our students can make a real difference to the work of human rights organisations.

“Digital media content is a huge potential source of information relating to suspected human rights abuses, but the amount of content is overwhelming, and there is significant lack of available expertise to verify it.

“Our students will be trained to become experts in verification, and in doing so support the important work of Amnesty International. The skills they gain will also position them to become leaders in this new but absolutely essential field.”

Jenna Dolecek, who is studying LLM in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, said: “When I saw this project, I was beyond excited because this is something I actually want to do in my career. I want to be a researcher and investigator of human rights violations. Not only must we document violations for prosecution, we must also document victims' and witnesses’ stories. We take historical accounts for granted and often forget that these events and atrocities need to be taught to the next generation so that we don’t let history repeat itself.

“Social media content is a new frontier that has rapidly developed and progressed. It provides an entirely new pool of evidence to pull from which could make the all difference in prosecuting perpetrators.”

Students from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa, are also taking part in the initiative.

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