13 Sep 2021 In Pacific islands, inequity casts deep shadow on digital space
Olivia Baro believes achieving true digital justice in the Pacific islands needs some serious work—and that young people can lead the effort. Baro serves as the ecumenical youth enabler for empowerment and engagement with the Pacific Conference of Churches.
The following text is part of a series exploring the topic of digital justice. The full series is being published in the days leading up to the International Symposium for Communication for Social Justice in the Digital Age which will be held 13-15 September. These interviews are intended to offer intergenerational—and honest—views of how we are living in a digital world, if churches are helping us, and how we can work together to define and pursue digital justice.
For her, digital justice means access, ownership and affordability for all. That’s simply not happening in the Pacific islands, she said, and sometimes that comes down to a lack of awareness from the rest of the world.
“In the Pacific, the 10 am Zoom call from the Northern Hemisphere is close to midnight,” she pointed out. “COIVD-19 has brought about a new form of colonisation—the colonisation of the Pacific by the global North through control of meeting times.”
In the Pacific Islands, digital space is expensive so people generally can’t afford much time on the Inter-net, Baro noted. “Digital access is also difficult due to geographical challenges,” she said. “For example, we find teachers going up mountains to access the Internet so they can teach kids confined to their villages because of COVID-19.”
Baro believes governments should spend more on infrastructure—such as towers or fibre optic cables—to allow access to Internet
“Access for women and children is unequal,” she said. “When costs are so high, women and children often have no digital access because money goes towards food, cigarettes, alcohol, high rent and more.”
The role of churches
In the Pacific islands—like much of the world—churches have been using digital platforms to reach their congregations and the wider community. “This has really allowed the church to utilize the digital space by putting worship resources, church services, Bible studies and many more resources online,” she said.
Churches should include young people in leading the way toward responsible, healthy use of digital space, she added. “Churches can provide training on digital usage and on ways that they can best utilize the space to best suit the community,” she said. “Apart from theology, the church can also address social issues by being involved in helping its people create programs in which all can engage.”
In the wider digital public sphere, Baro wishes people would take more care to engage in positive posts and uplifting messages, and that people who engage in hate speech would be removed more quickly from public digital forums.
Respect and responsibility
It’s important to respect people online with actions as simple as seeking people’s approval before posting their photos, she added.
“It is our individual responsibility to create a balance of freedom and control, so that we don’t abuse the space that we are given,” she said. “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and speech but that does not mean they abuse their rights—rights come with responsibility.”
Baro believes that, if people are abusing those rights, the law should carry harsh penalties. “There is a need for censorship on information that is abusive and brings about harmful content,” she said.
Mental health implications
Over-engaging in online activity can also impact on a person psychologically, Baro reflected. “Being overly connected can cause psychological issues such as distraction, personality disorder, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression,” she said. “Besides affecting users’ mental health, use of tech-nology can also have negative repercussions on physical health, causing vision problems, hearing loss, and neck strain.”
Educating people on the use of digital technologies is essential for a healthy humanity, Baro concluded. “In the Pacific we are social people,” she said. “We like gatherings and there’s a fear that when technology takes precedence in our way of living, it can destroy us as a Pacific island people.”
Follow the programme and learn more about the symposium “Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age”