Call for applications: WITNESS hosts a Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow

From meetings with technology companies in Silicon Valley to hands-on trainings with activists in Palestine, Los Angeles, or Stockholm, WITNESS’ Tech + Advocacy program is working around the clock to support human rights defenders. That’s why when we heard that we’d been accepted as a host for the Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows program, we were incredibly excited. Not only will this fellowship opportunity expand our team’s capacity to do this essential work, we’re looking forward to helping to shape and support the next generation of advocates in our field. The program supports work to “advance and protect the open internet. WITNESS sits at the intersection of the open internet and human rights, and we will give our Fellow critical opportunities to learn and move forward in this space. 

The application is available here. Note that there are other fellowships at that link. Just select Open Web when you start the process.  For more about what we do and what we’re looking for, read on.

As noted in Mozilla’s announcement of the host organizations for this year:

WITNESS collaborates with and provides training to activists, lawyers, and others around the safe, ethical, and effective use of video and related technologies for human rights. Based on our close collaborations with our partners, we develop guidance that can be shared and adapted by activists in a variety of contexts and locations — and we connect those activists with their counterparts around the world, building networks that facilitate exchange of resources, strategies, and skills. Our Tech+Advocacy program complements this work with policy advocacy, tech tool development, and advocacy to major online platforms and tech companies for tools and policies that help, instead of hinder, human rights defenders. In particular, we focus on bringing tech companies perspectives on their products that they would otherwise be unlikely to hear. We believe that when used right, video and technologies related to video can create positive change in the world.

What does this look like in practical terms? In one week, tech advocacy work could include writing a blog post talking about a current technological trend, gathering and preparing feedback for a meeting with a tech platform about a new tool or policy, researching international law or a new innovation in technology, and coordinating a call or meeting with allies. That means there is a broad range of skills that could help a fellow succeed in this position. Though a fellowship is partially about skill development, some skills that would be helpful in working with us include activism, legal, or policy advocacy experience, writing skills, product management, an interest in video for activism as an archivist, producer, or otherwise, an understanding of computer science and data, and digital/physical security experience. Key subject areas include content moderation, freedom of expression, user design, “citizen journalism,” international human rights law, artificial intelligence/machine learning, “fake news,” verification of media, archiving, and domestic laws around the right to record.  

Our work covers a broad range, and we will work with a Fellow to find appropriate projects, in addition to integrating them into our everyday work. Potential projects could include, but are not limited to:

  • Build our internal and external security capacity, with a focus on holistic security skill-sharing and materials that engage and integrate the on-the-ground experiences of our partners;
  • Research, identify, document, and analyze patterns of content regulation, or the visible effects of other company policies;
  • Lead a deep dive and convening into the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and work around how to deal with the potential threats of the rapid consumerization of tools for more easily manipulating audio and video of real-life events and people;
  • Support our coalition work on protecting the Right to Record as the most visible mode of free expression for many people whose first instinct is to film and share when they see abusee;
  • Develop the user interface or library of our existing Android apps, or work on iOs versions of those apps;
  • As the debate around “fake news” obscures critical issues of free expression for marginalized groups and citizen journalists, work to ensure solutions do not silence these groups;
  • Deepen WITNESS’ participation in #KeepItON,  the Media Action Grassroots Network, and other coalitions working on Open Internet issues.
  • Work on, or collaborate with others already working on, helping to solve filming, production, archiving or editing problems faced by activists who are using mobile or live in areas with poor internet penetration.

WITNESS has been around through the blossoming of the Internet, and the avenues for expression which it has created- while maintaining our focus on the needs of on-the-ground human rights defenders. Too often, technologists are not exposed to a broad enough understanding of who the users really are. WITNESS is not focused on North American, cisgender, white, male users of technology. Our partners are working on old phones, in areas with heavily censored or simple, low-quality Internet. They are the targets of online harassment campaigns by as well as offline physical threats. They are stopped at checkpoints and borders.  We especially want to encourage the public interest tech-policy community to understand and take into account these realities.

We are on the cutting edge of the growing field of tech company policy advocacy. We have been working with YouTube for nearly eight years now. That’s how long we have been encouraging the designers of technology used by millions of people around the world, and increasingly human rights defenders to truly understand the impact of the decisions they make. Technology is not neutral. That’s why we continue this work now, with a growing list of companies and partners. This will be a valuable perspective that a Fellow can bring with them to their future work.

Please do check out the application. More details on compensation and benefits are available here. These details are not managed by WITNESS, but we do want you to know that we’re happy to work with Fellows based in Berlin, New York, or potentially the San Francisco Bay Area (or a combination of these locations).



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