Activism to reach the newest users in fast-connecting Bolivia

Youth and privacy in the Americas: InternetBolivia.org, Bolivia


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: Eliana Quiroz and Cristian León from Internet Bolivia.org

What: Advocacy, campaigning, research

Mission/vision: To strengthen the free and safe use of the internet.

Where: Bolivia

Since: 2018

Years of operation (as of February 2018): 0

Works in the fields of: Digital security, digital rights, equality

Post summary: Internet Bolivia.org is a citizen collective that promotes awareness on digital rights, including the right to safety and privacy online. Their work focuses on people who have gone online for the first time in the last two years; 27% of the Bolivian population, according to official statistics.

Highlight quote from the interview:

More resources: Internet Bolivia.org website


Activism to reach the newest users in fast-connecting Bolivia

As a (formerly) young activist in the space of digital rights in Latin America, I have always found it hard to find role models of leadership whose steps I felt compelled to follow. One of the advantages in our field is that a lot of it is new territory and there is room for everyone to join in the effort; one of the downsides is the lack of intergenerational networks that share knowledge to unify the movement we want to see. This is why meeting Eliana Quiroz in 2014 is one of the most significant gifts I have received in my path.

Eliana has done it all. She is a consultant on technology and society issues, she has supported many grassroots efforts; she has done academic research; she has been able to formulate policies through her work for the President’s Office in Bolivia. When I found out that she was collaborating with other technology for change figures I admire, like Cristian Leon, to start a nonprofit through which they could do the grassroots work to fill the gaps they identified in all their international experience, I knew I had to find out about their work on youth and privacy issues for this series. I am grateful that they made time to chat with me on a very late evening for them, after a long day of work, before they even made a public announcement of their organization.

Internet Bolivia.org launched in April as a citizen collective that promotes awareness on digital rights. In the field of privacy, they intend to raise awareness of the needs of the Bolivian individuals who have gone online for the first time in the last two years, and who comprise 27% of the country’s population, according to official statistics. The idea is not to focus on activists, which is what they feel has already been done by digital security initiatives, but to work with those whose first experiences of the internet are happening today.

Eliana says that “If we trust the official numbers, 27% of the population has gone online in two years. This constitutes a major change. And these are people who have gone online on a different internet from the one we experienced three, six years ago. They’re online in an internet with trolls, hate speech, fake news; a lot of people are going online but they don’t know how to deal with risks while seizing the potential.”

Moreover, throughout their experience in the government and advocacy, they “have received a lot of questions regarding grooming, human trafficking, identity theft, child pornography. Having worked with politicians, public institutions, which is where we all come from, we know about the phenomena, the regulation and the places people can find support.”

Internet Bolivia.org works on issues of digital rights and digital economy. Some of the topics they cover are big data and data protection, such as analyzing the impact of the GDPR in Latin America; censorship and State and corporate surveillance; e-commerce and internet governance, and the digital divide and north-south development. Their work takes place in the form of workshops, communications materials, debates series, events, research.

Their series of four workshops in Cochabamba serves as an example of the educational offerings Internet Bolivia.org hopes to do: introduction to the internet, digital marketing, e-banking, digital security. They saw that the most highly requested workshop was the one on marketing, whereas digital security was the least popular. “We had trouble promoting it, but going forward we will make better posters for parents to learn about youth online safety. It’s not about calling it privacy but about being able to explain how phenomena relate to people’s lives.”

Their pedagogic goals for their workshops on youth online safety are to help people identify the ways in which they are exposing themselves or their children. “What happens when parents feel their kids are vulnerable? The idea is to help parents understand that it’s not about prohibiting kids from going online, but to have a better idea of how exactly kids get exposed. And help them all learn certain protective measures, like not advertising your phone number on a big Facebook group.”

They also do advocacy and communications materials on the intersection between technology and gender-based violence. They explain the regulatory frameworks to deal with human trafficking, sextortion. Bolivia has seen a fair share of cases where non-consensually shared intimate content has been weaponized against women journalists, politicians, and public figures.

Their research today is focused on social media trolls, censorship, and surveillance in Bolivia, and indicators that will hopefully come in useful in the electoral season in a year and a half. Like other countries in the region, political candidates in Bolivia are not afraid of contentious electoral uses of technology, and they want to be a watchdog. “We don’t have strong evidence to believe that governments or other actors in Bolivia are surveilling the population to the extent that the Colombian, Argentinean or Mexican governments are. It doesn’t mean this will not change in the future; it’s not like the government has no resources or is not learning from other governments. But we still have a culture of fear and self-censorship. People who do not want to talk because of government trolls that will attack you if you speak against the government. So now we need to start raising awareness in time for further rights violations.”

For Cristian, Internet Bolivia.org brings methodologies informed by feminist and youth perspectives. They recognize that “If you all you say is ‘don’t, don’t, don’t’, you are leading people further into self-censorship and self-surveillance.”

Ultimately, the specialists who have congregated in Internet Bolivia.org want to be independent of funding, at least partially. “We just want to be activists. We will finance part of our stuff ourselves. When you do something coherent, people will see the results.” I know that I, for one, cannot wait to see what they will be doing.

You can read more about Internet Bolivia.org on their website.