The technological revolution in today’s global village has become an indispensable part of our existence. It has transformed how we communicate, obtain information, and interact with society.
Despite creating an interconnected community, underneath the surface of this digital revolution lies a complicated happening known as “digital colonialism”.
Digital colonialism refers to the imbalanced power dynamics and exploitative practices that emerge when major tech giants and countries exercise dominance over the digital space of less powerful regions.
Therefore, it is crucial to explore the effect of digital colonialism on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and how civic actors can be strengthened to effectively tackle these challenges.
Digital Colonialism: Understanding the Phenomenon
Digital colonialists also known as tech conglomerates, build communication infrastructures, including social media platforms and network connectivity, primarily to collect data, generate profits, and store information for predictive analytics.
Digital colonialism encompasses a range of issues, including data mining, surveillance capitalism, and the monopolisation of information by tech giants.
Impact on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)
As the internet becomes an essential space for CSOs to advance their causes, they tend to face significant challenges in utilising digital tools while safeguarding their autonomy and sovereignty. This often leads to a paradox where these organisations find themselves heavily dependent on digital platforms controlled by third parties.
The global digital divide remains a formidable obstacle, with more than half of the world’s population lacking internet access, particularly affecting third world countries. This lack of access to technology hinders CSOs’ ability to connect with target audiences, access critical resources, and mobilise support effectively, exacerbating existing inequalities.
Data Extraction, Surveillance Capitalism, and Algorithmic Biases
Technology corporations collect massive amount of data from users, often without transparent consent, leading to concerns about privacy violations and surveillance capitalism.
This data is then used to fuel algorithms that shape the information people see online, potentially limiting the visibility of CSOs’ causes and reinforcing dominant narratives that may not align with their objectives.
Moreover, algorithmic bias within digital platforms poses another challenge for CSOs. Algorithms, designed and controlled by external entities, can inadvertently marginalise certain voices, perpetuate stereotypes, and suppress vital information that CSOs aim to disseminate. This inherent bias hinders the ability of CSOs to engage with diverse audiences and promote inclusivity.
Empowering CSOs: Recommendations for a More Equitable Digital Space
1. Digital Literacy and Capacity Building: To mitigate the effects of digital colonialism, empowering CSOs with digital literacy and capacity building training is essential. Local and international organisations can collaborate to offer workshops and training on digital tools, data management, and cybersecurity. These efforts will enable CSOs to restore autonomy of their online presence and protect their data and privacy effectively.
2. Advocating for Open-Source and Decentralised Solutions: Promoting the implementation of open technologies and decentralised platforms can alleviate the dependency on closed-source software and external control. Open-source solutions provide transparency, safety, and customisation options, allowing CSOs to modify their digital strategies according to their needs.
3. Promotion of Digital Rights and Data Protection: CSOs have an essential duty to perform when it comes to advocating for digital rights and data protection laws within their regions. By collaborating with policymakers and other stakeholders, CSOs can influence the creation of fair and transparent regulations that safeguard the interests of citizens and organisations alike.
4. Strengthening Regional and Global Networks: Collaboration and information sharing among CSOs at regional and global levels can enhance their collective voice and resilience against digital colonialism. By forming alliances and networks, CSOs can strategise together, share best practices, and amplify their impact in advocating for a more equitable digital space.
Digital colonialism poses significant challenges to civil society organisations seeking to leverage the internet’s potential to advance their missions.
However, by prioritising digital literacy, advocating for data protection, and embracing open-source solutions, CSOs can reclaim agency over their digital presence and foster a more equitable digital ecosystem.
To achieve this, collective effort from governments, tech companies, and civil society sectors is imperative in dismantling the structures of digital colonialism and fostering an inclusive and accessible digital space that empowers CSOs and upholds democratic principles and human rights for all.