Concept Note

I. Context

In accordance with its mandate and in response to the existing debates on the digital technologies impact on the exercise of human rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) are focused on promoting guarantees of freedom of expression in digital spaces, monitoring possible limitations and alerting about possible links between the use of stigmatizing speeches online and violent actions against certain groups.

The main challenges identified are related to the deterioration of the public debate, based on the increase in digital and physical violence against certain people and groups of people who exercise their right to freedom of expression, deliberate disinformation and the inadequacy of companies policies measured against democratic and human rights principles. 

Understanding that the internet is an indispensable instrument for the full exercise of human rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and others of economic, cultural and political nature, concrete actions are required to facilitate the conditions of access, use and exploitation of the internet and technology itself. This includes a transversal approach that addresses the particular deficiencies and vulnerabilities of historically discriminated groups, as well as constant technological innovation and its scope.

In this regard, the IACHR has entrusted RELE to carry out a multistakeholder inter-American dialogue related to three thematic axes:

  • The deterioration of the public debate
  • Digital literacy for the development of civic skills
  • Compatibility of content moderation policies with human rights standards.

During the different phases of the Dialogue, the RELE will address each of the thematic axes from two approaches to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by Internet users: the first, in light of those users who access information and the second , from those who produce content; Both approaches require a particular approach in each of the thematic axes according to their needs.

This note briefly summarizes what is meant by the digital literacy. It also points out – not exhaustively – themes and sub-themes that will facilitate and scope the Dialogue.

II. Definition

The definition of what it means to be “literate” has changed dramatically in recent years. In the past, it was considered that a person could read and write if he or she could do it at a basic level. Today, with advances in technologies and the Internet, literacy also includes Digital Literacy for the development of civic skills.

Digital Literacy for the development of civic skills represents one of the guidelines that can contribute to reducing or eliminating the existing digital divide, which includes users as recipients of information but also producers of content. Therefore, it implies that these subjects have access to the Internet and its basic services without undue interference by private parties and have technical and critical skills for the best use of these in the exercise of their rights.

  “Set of skills, knowledge and attitudes that a person needs to be able to function functionally within the information society and aims to develop skills and knowledge that allow them to use technology effectively developing new social and economic opportunities within the framework of your society” (“Standars for a Free, Open and Inclusive Internet”, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, 2017).

For some, Digital Literacy for civic skills development has evolved as media literacy, which is the ability to encode and decode symbols transmitted through the media and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages.

III. Categories and subcategories

To analyze the implications and phases of Digital Literacy for the development of civic skills, it is proposed to make a breakdown starting from the two main approaches of internet users: those who access and are recipients of information (‘recipients”) and those who create content (” creators ”). This distinction is made knowingly and taking into account that due to the very nature of the internet, people alternate between the roles of creators and recipients in its multiple and different uses of technology.

Within each approach are progressive categories of Digital Literacy development for civic skills development that may include:

  • Access: Access to the internet and technologies, as well as knowledge about the use of tools at a basic level.
  • Understand: Critical content analysis skills and safeguarding your rights within digital platforms. It involves understanding the policies and rules of use to prepare and be a generator of content.
  • Create: Level of literacy sufficient to create and disseminate content or even adapt or create new technologies.

These categories and subcategories are not exhaustive and more may be added during the Dialogue of the Americas.

Internet access
Usage of basic tools
Digital security
Privacy and data management
Content management
Content moderation
Creation of new content
Dissemination of new content
Creation of technologies

IV. Challenges

Each one of the three thematic axes of the Dialogue of the Americas presents particular challenges for its approach. This does not mean that they are the only related problems, but rather that they are issues that must be analyzed for the construction of comprehensive and sustainable in time action proposals.

In relation to Digital Literacy for the development of civic skills, these challenges are divided into three broad categories: political / legal, technical and social. This division is artificial and may change during the Dialogue of the Americas, but its intent is to cover the challenges already documented by the IACHR / RELE.

  • Challenges of a political / legal nature include challenges related to actions by the State and organizations in a position of power to influence legislative reforms, budget distribution decisions, public procurement conditions, political will in general or the establishment of alliances for the execution of decisions. policies.
  • Challenges of a technical nature include those needs for localization, appropriation and adaptation of the internet and new technologies to guarantee that they are accessible and inclusive. These challenges are influenced by both the States, public or private institutions that make decisions about the services they provide, how and when to launch and adopt certain technological solutions.
  • Challenges of a social nature include the digital gap in all its manifestations – from internet access through adequate infrastructure as well as the difference in capacities affected by the generation gap. Factors that obstruct digital inclusion are considered.

Challenges of an economic and cultural nature are also recognized and affect the three previously identified categories in a transversal way.

Examples of Challenges
Guarantee basic education rights that are prerequisites to access digital.
Decide on technologies that do not create more technical challenges. Make part of these decisions to the population groups and organizations that will be particularly affected by this decision.
Guarantee basic internet access for all people, without discrimination of any kind and at affordable costs.
Incorporate public policies aimed at making the internet and Digital Literacy for the development of civic skills, a priority issue.
Technical measures to make Digital Literacy for the development of civic skills accessible without discrimination for anyone, for example: linguistic plurality and accessibility for people with disabilities.

Basic Bibliography

Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 2013. “Freedom of Expression and the Internet.”

Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 2017. “Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda”

Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 2017. “Standars for a Free, Open and Inclusive Internet.”

Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 2019. “Guide to guarantee freedom of expression regarding deliberate disinformation in electoral contexts.”