Reflections from the Global Voices Summit: on community shifts, equity, and finding our place

Zara Rahman

Late last year, I attended the Global Voices Summit – an event which brings the Global Voices (GV) community together, uniting individuals from diverse countries, backgrounds, and professions. I’ve been involved with GV for a couple of years, but it was my first Summit, and the first time I got to meet lots of online collaborators and friends in person.

Global Voices is 12 years old. As someone at the summit described, that’s pretty old in internet years, and that means that there have been many community shifts, and many (many) political shifts during that time. The world looks and feels very different to how it did twelve years ago, and technology, communication and media have changed a great deal along the way.

Both the internal summit (where Global Voices contributors, translators, editors, core team and some board members were present) and the public, external summit, were fantastic experiences. Here are just some of the questions and ideas they brought up for me.

Managing Community Needs

The joys of a globally diverse community are many – different perspectives and approaches, the privilege to listen to people who have totally different experiences, and more. This diversity also means that within the community there are core things that differ, such as threat models. As a remote, global community with a relatively small core team, how can those differing needs and threats be both proactively assessed and responded to?

As we at The Engine Room are seeing through our research with The Ford Foundation, responding to distributed digital security threats can be hard and getting financial support for organisational security (let alone community security) can also be tricky. With an organisation like GV, it’s clear that there are certain processes that have been (sadly) well-developed – such as support campaigns for community members who are put in jail, like the Zone 9 bloggers. What are the other priorities that need to be in place, and how can a remote, distributed organisation with GV’s needs address those?

We talked about the privilege and luxury of actually being able to contribute to GV, too. As someone who lives outside of the country that I primarily write about, I have a lot of freedom – I don’t have to self-censor or even spend too much energy thinking about how what I write might be interpreted in the country about which I’m writing, a kind of ‘diaspora privilege’. For those inside the country, that is much harder. Some people write using pseudonyms, or choose their words with much more care. Those choices might change as the political environment changes, which means they need to be reassessed on a regular basis.

Who is GV?

This was my first summit, but I imagine this is a question that must come up all the time. It was fascinating to me to see how many different ways Global Voices was described – as a learning organisation, an activist organisation, a global community of bloggers, a platform, an advocacy organisation, a network, a newsroom… and the list goes on.

The diversity in responses and perceptions is to me a great strength, as well as something that makes setting out a strong narrative of who GV is and what we do more challenging. It’s brilliant that different people can see different sides to GV. It’s kind of like a Rubix cube where everyone interacts with and perceives different sides and colour of the same cube.

One big question that came up is – who are we writing for? Are we local or global? For me, one of the unique things about GV is that it is local news that I can trust, from around the world. Local journalism, I feel, has got a lot of attention over the past year or so – and one of the reasons I love GV is that the site covers topics from all over the world, with somewhat of a local perspective.

Equity, not equality

One topic that came up a lot is around who we include, and who we don’t. In particular, the difference between equity and equality was brought up multiple times. Are we striving for a world where all voices are equal, or an equitable world? For me, making it the latter is important. An equitable approach recognises the inequalities of the systems and societies we operate within, and designs systems which address those existing inequalities, rather than assuming that everyone starts with an even playing field (which they don’t).

So, how does GV as a newsroom and as a community, reflect that? The focus on “underrepresented stories” already goes a long way towards this. I’d be surprised to see, for example, a big focus on coverage of issues that are widely covered in mainstream media from the US or Europe. In this way, not all stories get equal coverage – just the ones that deserve more.

An equitable approach recognises the inequalities of the systems and societies we operate within, and designs systems which address those existing inequalities, rather than assuming that everyone starts with an even playing field (which they don’t).

Looking ahead – the younger generations

It’s a sad truth, but as Global Voices research has shown, many people are coming online for the first time not through the internet but through Facebook’s Free Basics app. They’re not experiencing the Internet as I first did, or as the majority of the existing GV community did, so how does that affect their news habits? With Facebook itself as the first experience many other people have, what does this mean for digital and media literacy? And what role might communities and platforms like GV play with those populations?

One of the things I appreciate most about GV is that I have confidence in the accuracy of the stories, both from a factual perspective, but also from a contextual perspective. I know that the authors have a deep understanding about the cultures and contexts they’re writing about. There’s no parachuting-in, no cultural misunderstandings when it comes to reporting the news. What could building up that confidence across generations, as well as to a wider audience, look like?

Going back to where I started this piece: the role of GV in today’s media landscape is also somewhat different than when it began, 12 years ago. Back then, looking to social media for breaking news, and connecting and aggregating blogs across borders, was pioneering. Now, many (if not all) mainstream news organisations look to social media for local perspectives, and use social media platforms to gather information.

There’s no parachuting-in, no cultural misunderstandings when it comes to reporting the news. What could building up that confidence across generations, as well as to a wider audience, look like?

That made me think: how do we keep being ‘pioneering’ in what we do? By coming up with a new idea, like Ethan and Rebecca did 12 years ago? Or, by keeping on doing what we’re doing, building our global community and refining our methods, strengthening the uniqueness of combining a newsroom with a global community? I know the GV Summit brought up lots of strategy thoughts and input for the GV core team, and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction they choose.

Till next time…

Regardless of all these questions, it’s clear to me that GV’s combination of professional newsroom + local bloggers + global community is unique. Especially in a year like this one, being part of a community that doesn’t shy away from complexity or hard questions, treats each other with compassion and kindness, and seeks to use what we have at our disposal – be it journalistic, advocacy or translation skills – to make the world a better place is an honour and a comfort.

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