Changing The Ratio: JustSociale’s Sarah Liberty On The Importance Of Online Human Rights

Changing The Ratio: JustSociale’s Sarah Liberty On The Importance Of Online Human Rights

B&T is gearing up to our next Changing the Ratio breakfast which is sure to be incredible event. In the meantime, we’re also sharing our Changing the Ratio content series, which spotlights some of the amazing diversity and inclusion work being done in our industry.

Sarah Liberty founded JustSociale in 2020. It is the first federal NGO dedicating to both promoting and protecting the online human rights of Australians. Liberty sat down with B&T to discuss her work and reflect on what the future of online human rights looks like.

B&T: Things like the online safety bill, and the current controversy surrounding Friendlyjordies – is that relevant to your work?

SL: With the Friendlyjordies case, there are a few things that come to mind. I was thinking, why is this counterterrorism unit being used to address this type of thing?

I’m not here to defend the Friendlyjordies guy. I think what we say online should always be mindful of people’s reputations, so I’m not trying to say that the defamation didn’t occur.

I just think it’s really interesting that this counterterrorism unit was brought in, and that they’re now addressing online harm. One of the questions that lingers in my mind is, what does the federal government say about this? What does YouTube say about this?

Because I believe that addressing online harm is everyone’s responsibility. Yeah, it’s important for law enforcement to act swiftly on these sorts of things, if we agree that they’re the right people to address them. But I’m just curious as to why the federal government and YouTube didn’t take this content down.

They clearly don’t think it’s as bad as the law enforcement do, and the federal government hasn’t said anything about it. It might be because Scott Morrison’s in the UK, or the [Online] Safety Commissioner hasn’t said anything about it. But it’s a bit mysterious to me. What’s going on?

Is that a sign that we aren’t all on the same page about what constitutes good online behavior? 

I think, unfortunately, yeah, it does. Or, it’s just the dots are not really connecting. I do ask these sorts of questions, because I think if we want to prevent this sort of thing from happening, YouTube needs to be in the picture. I think the federal government needs to be in the picture.

Otherwise, it just seems like you could point a finger and say, “Well, okay, this person was very high profile, and they acted very swiftly, through a very efficient counterterrorism unit to take this content down or to address this”. But what about the average person that might have this happen to them?

Is that going to be the same case? There needs to be a bit more consistency, I think.

Does that tie in with why it’s important to have an online Code of Conduct, or is it a separate issue?

I think it very much ties into what we’re trying to do. I like to be optimistic, and I like to hope that the UNESCO concept of ‘good digital citizenship’ is something that everyone needs to take responsibility for.

That’s why we started, we’ve developed the online code of conduct which everyone can become a signatory to, whether they’re an organization or business or an individual.

But it’s more about taking responsibility and being proactive about saying the internet is a place that we can all try and enjoy, as opposed to it just being in the hands of government or of tech platforms.

We all use it, we all need to own it.

That’s why we developed the code of conduct. It was kind of more just to say that everyone needs to take responsibility for this. It’s not just a thing you can park on the corner, [because] we all live online so much.

Do you think that is important for smaller businesses, other private companies to kind of get behind something like a code of conduct?

I think it’s really important, because everyone these days uses the internet for work. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of what online human rights and what our rights are, to be clear and to ensure that you’re conducting business in a way that is ethical, responsible and respectful.

[In terms of] small businesses or agencies, we have a number of communications agencies who have signed that code already. They specialise in things like internal marketing, video production, the more PR side of things – they’re all taking an interest in this because it is the center of their business.

If they are representing clients, or they are conducting work, they should be aware of  what is responsible, what is ethical and taking a stand to do what’s right, and knowing what that is.

I think it’s important, for big and small businesses, and individuals really to know, what my human rights are.

UNESCO has been working on good digital citizenship for years, or decades even.  I just go back to that, and think it’s really important that people know that this has been a concept for a long time.

I truly believe that the internet is not the Wild West, but to manage it, we have to take responsibility if we use it.

How does your work intersect with those topics of diversity and inclusion?

When I was first working on this and came up with what I wanted to do with Just Sociale, and was getting my board together, I deliberately went and found the most diverse people possible that I could have working with me.

I’m really proud and grateful that I have some very diverse people on my board.

Josh Gilbert, for example, is an Indigenous Australian from the north coast. I have Melissa, who is trans. There’s also Lisa, who is from Brisbane – she’s amazing, she’s our disability advocate.

She’s disabled, and she shows up on red carpets of Fashion Week events. She’s an influencer, because that’s just what she knows, and what she did before she acquired a disability. Then she decided to use her platform of having lots of followers to spread awareness about being inclusive and what it’s like to have a disability.

All my board members [are amazing].

Everyone should be able to use the internet, freely and inclusively. 2.5 million Australians are not online, and that’s a concern for me. Whether it’s economic reasons, or for other reasons, it’s something that in this day and age, we need to be asking questions about that.

We try our best, with Just Sociale to communicate what it means to be inclusive online, and how we can all be inclusive.

Seeing things like using alt text for disabled people, or ensuring that we’re respectful of people’s chosen genders, or whatever it is. We do our best to try in our content: our social media content, our website content, a blog, or our PR and media content, to be respectful of those things, and to show other people how we can be inclusive.

Changing the Ratio this year has the theme ‘belonging: it starts with you’. Is that an idea that resonates in the Just Sociale ethos?

Yeah, totally. I mean, belonging online, it starts with you – I would just add a word.

I would say that everything starts with you, when you consider the internet, because we all use it personally in different ways: for work, for connecting with friends.

I think we all need to take responsibility in the same way that I mentioned before, whether it’s a business organization, whether it’s individual, for making sure that the standard that we all pass is the standard that we think is correct or we know is responsible.

That’s why we’re trying to promote online human rights and awareness of what they are, so that people at any level are aware of them. To help us promote them and to protect them.

Because I mean, just thinking about the FriendlyJordie’s thing, one of the questions is: would this have happened if we had more people promoting what responsible, respectful online behavior is? Or if we had a more proactive government on this issue, more practically fintech?

So yes, being online is belonging for everyone.

I would really like for people to feel that they can engage with Just Sociale and ask questions of me, ask questions of my board and my team, check out our blog, check out our social pages. Because we’re really trying to connect to as many people as possible.

So yeah, check out our content, and follow our #StayConnected campaign to make sure that people know what their rights are. I mean, it’s so important – it impacts everyone.

For information about Changing the Ration, head to the website.

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