Creating Technology for Social Change

A tabletop game on privacy in Costa Rica: Sula Batsu

How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety.

Quick facts

Who: Vivian Zúñiga from Sulá Batsú

What: Litigation, campaigning, research

Mission/vision: To promote local development through solidary social economic practices in different fields, including information and communication technologies

Where: Costa Rica

Since: 2005

Years of operation (as of February 2018): 13

Works in the fields of: Digital technologies, computer use, digital stories, digital security

Post summary: Sulá Batsú is a cooperative in Costa Rica promoting local development through information and communication technologies; to address the topic of digital security with youth, they designed a tabletop game.

Highlight quote from the interview: “Teaching methodologies need to be adaptative and emergent. When I arrive at a workshop, I don’t have a full show set up. I have learned that things always change and participants have a lot more to say, and I have a lot more to learn. Yes, you must come in with an idea of what needs to be achieved, but nothing that cannot change.”

More resources: Sulá Batsú’s website

Vivian Zúñiga, Sulá Batsú

Sulá Batsú is a cooperative that, since 2005, works to promote local development through solidary social economic practices. In a globalized world, information and communication technologies (ICT) have become one of the main fields to promote their vision. Vivian Zúñiga has been affiliated with the cooperative for over a decade and has been one of the driving forces behind their efforts on youth and technology.

Sulá Batsú’s work with youth started as a partnership with Fundación Telefónica, the foundation of one of the primary telecommunications companies in Costa Rica. They went to different parts of Costa Rica to hold workshops under the ‘Digital stories’ umbrella: from taking good photos with mobile phone cameras to digital security basics. Their interest in youth has influenced Sulá Batsú’s programs more broadly; TIC-as, their program on gender equality and technology in rural areas of Costa Rica, has created spaces and networks for young rural women specifically.

In the digital rights and security ecosystem, Sulá Batsú’s work with youth shows an interesting context that, in my experience, organizations and researchers from the global north struggle to contemplate. On the one hand, local civil society deals with the specific legislative challenges of the Cybercrime Law passed in 2012, modeled after the Budapest Convention – which has been criticized by human rights organizations worldwide for enabling intrusive surveillance without institutional safeguards (Rodriguez, 2011). On the other hand, they don’t have access to some of the tools most widely associated in the global north with countersurveillance efforts.

“I can’t come into a community and pose solutions that won’t work for us. Signal does not work well in Central America”. Signal is a communications application for mobile phones that has long been promoted in digital security circles because of its end-to-end encryption and open source development, in an advocacy attempt to promote secure communications by the most failproof and usable means to less technically savvy users.

In the spirit of proposing context-sensitive solutions, Sulá Batsú realized that security workshops in particular can be heavy, and that the topic can be distant from people. After a five-month research process with Fundación Telefónica, they decided to make the learning more fun through a game called Huellas, or footprints. Two to six players have to match online risk scenarios with good practices to accumulate the largest number of tokens. The goal is to “identify scenarios where they know they are at risk of having their rights violated online, so that they can identify and adopt good practices for safe use of the internet”.

Why a fun take on security trainings for youth? “We feel that there isn’t much information for youth on this topic. And they can believe that their own information is not important”. Vivian says that their work was motivated partly by prominent cases where personal data of youth were misused in Costa Rica (like in many other of the contexts described by interviewees in this blog post series), as well as cases where young people were being expelled from schools because of incidents related to privacy.

For Vivian, work on security with youth does not happen in a vacuum, isolated from other social issues. “When we work with youth, we have to change our language, sometimes for something as simple as complying with the norms of the environment where we meet them. When we go to a school, even saying the word “sex” can be problematic – in Costa Rica, new guides on sex education have come out, annoying the far right movement on the one hand, but raising challenges for educators on the other.”

For an organization focused on local development, valuing the local over broader, more global views on technology influences not just the solutions they propose, but also their thematic and pedagogical choices. After working with mothers who have children who use ICT, they decided to provide trainings that would address the digital gap they witnessed between both generations. They focused on giving them options that would help mothers keep their own privacy in devices that were also touched by small, agile hands. They frame these workshops as “Digital technologies”, or as “Computer use” in some communities, depending on the local language.

“In our workshops, it’s about listening to people’s realities and adapting to them. With some of these women, we end up taking a computer apart so that they can see where the internet comes from. For them, being able to see where their information is being stored is very eye-opening”.

So what is Vivian’s advice for other people who want to work in promoting digital security? “Teaching methodologies need to be adaptative and emergent. When I arrive at a workshop, I don’t have a full show set up. I have learned that things always change and participants have a lot more to say, and I have a lot more to learn. Yes, you must come in with an idea of what needs to be achieved, but nothing that cannot change.”

You can read more about Sulá Batsú on their website.