When Sarah Liberty discovered her former domestically violent partner had hacked her computer, emails and social media accounts, and was digitally surveilling her, she wasn’t sure who to turn to or what her rights were.
After weeks of persistence and emotional turmoil, the Sydney-based Social Entrepreneur, Human Rights Advocate and Ambassador for the UN Women #GenerationEquality Campaign, managed to get an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO). Following this experience – and after experiencing trolling as a result of her public profile and strong stance as an activist speaking out about social justice issues – she is now determined to support and show solidarity with others whose online rights have been violated, or who simply feel unsure about what constitutes safe online behaviour. This is the driving force behind Liberty’s newly-launched federal NGO, JustSociale, which seeks to bolster awareness of and advocate for the online human rights of all Australians. “The Internet must be safely and equally accessibly to everyone; however, from my academic and professional expertise working as an NGO leader in London, New York, Paris, Jogjakarta and Sydney, I know it is not,” says Liberty, who recently completed her Masters of International Relations: Human Rights, at Sciences Po University in Paris, France. According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, 2.5 million Australians are not online because of cost, location, or lack of digital literacy. For those who are online, a study by the Digital Rights and Governance Project at the University of Sydney found that 80% want to know how their information is being accessed and by whom. “By promoting the fact that our online human rights are no different to our offline rights, JustSociale seeks to support all Australians to feel self-empowered when it comes to online activities – and to raise awareness of their online human rights and the solutions available to them, as digital citizens,” explains Liberty. As such, JustSociale is forging Australia’s first national Alliance of actors already working in the space – including civil society, law enforcement, the government, activists, technology platforms, businesses, communications and advertising agencies, creatives and individuals – to amplify their voices through advocacy, and to strengthen their capacity to promote the online rights of everyone in Australia.
“We want to shape an Alliance that collectively develops progressive policies that adapt to the rapidly online landscape; policies that may be diplomatically presented to law enforcement agencies, technology platforms and the government to bring about real societal change,” adds Liberty. For example, whilst Australia has a number of Commonwealth and State laws in place to protect women, including from online gender-based violence, an unacceptable number of Australian women – almost one in three according to Amnesty – are still survivors of online abuse and harassment. To promote equality of access, JustSociale will provide information and resources through its website that will be translated into languages other than English, starting with Mandarin and Arabic. It will also work with communities in remote and rural locations to ensure they have access to these educational resources, but also to the Internet and smartphone technology more widely. Says Liberty: “Together with all Alliance members, we will collectively develop on online Code of Conduct, which members will be invited to become signatories of to show their support of safe, inclusive online activity.” To ensure JustSociale remains sensitive to the voices, concerns and needs of diverse Australians, Liberty has also put together a carefully-selected Board of ‘Responsible People’. The Board comprises: Joshua Gilbert, an award-winning Aboriginal and climate
activist, and business consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Regina Huber, the CEO of New York-based inclusion and diversity leadership consultancy Transform Your Business; Nicholas Riggs, a professional digital and social media strategist who has been involved in building online communities since the early dial-up driven days of the Internet in London; and Jaime Evans, Director of Women’s March Sydney. “Whilst we know the Internet offers unparalleled opportunities for connection and has become an essential part of many of our daily lives, we also know these opportunities are not available for all Australians,” says Gilbert, a Young Australian of the Year Finalist and Australian Geographic’s Young Conservationist of the Year. “As a Worimi man who works closely with Indigenous communities, I know from experience that people in rural and remote communities are not able to access the Internet as equally or safely as Australians in urban centres; this is why I am passionate about working with JustSociale – to promote making the Internet accessible and inclusive for all.”