RightsCon Costa Rica: our record-breaking Call for Proposals, by the numbers
The Call for Proposals is the cornerstone of RightsCon’s community-sourced program and presents a dynamic snapshot of the state of human rights and technology. As RightsCon Costa Rica (June 5-8, 2023) approaches, we’re taking a close look at the numbers of the Call for Proposals and sharing insights about the forces and factors shaping our first hybrid program.
This year, RightsCon is breaking records across the board. We received an astounding 1880+ session proposals from 1195+ institutions – a 30 percent increase from 2020, our previous Call for Proposals record, and a staggering 60 percent increase from 2022.
RightsCon Costa Rica represents both a return to our roots and a moment to branch out in new directions, as we explore a hybrid model for the first time, reintroduce the experience of an in-person summit, and maintain and build on the strength of our vibrant online platform. Beyond sheer volume, the Call for Proposals has expanded in both breadth and depth, not only in terms of the topics covered, but also in terms of representation and diversity of perspectives.
Session proposers represented more countries than ever before (132, up from 112 in 2022), and submitted 13 percent of proposals in languages other than English. These numbers underscore the significance of RightsCon as a space for human rights actors from around the world to connect, collaborate, and build strategies to address the most pressing issues in the digital age.
Community voices: perspectives from the Call for Proposals
With the inclusivity and accessibility of a hybrid event, we have seen unprecedented demand to host a session in the RightsCon program and high engagement from stakeholders across regions and sectors. This year, for the first time, half of our session proposers (50.13 percent, to be exact!) come from countries in the Global South, compared to 43 percent in 2022. While we primarily report these data based on regional distribution, the broader distinction of parity in representation from Global South and North indicates an important milestone in our efforts to create an inclusive program, even as much work still remains to achieve equity.
Regionally, the proportion of session proposers from North America has consistently declined since RightsCon Tunis, from a high of 46 percent in 2019 to 25 percent in 2023. That decrease has corresponded with an uptick in participation from Latin America and the Caribbean, with a more modest increase from the Asia Pacific region. Relatedly, we received an all-time record number of sessions proposed in languages other than English, the bulk of which (209 proposals) would run in Spanish.
RightsCon Costa Rica continues our strong track record on gender diversity as a shaper of our agenda, with 58 percent of session proposers identified as women and 4 percent identified as nonbinary, bigender, agender, or genderfluid. We also noted consistency in terms of our metrics related to the growth and retention of our community, as we welcome back many longstanding contributors to our program. However, we’re equally excited to welcome plenty of new faces, as more than a third of proposals came from people who have never attended RightsCon before, but who come ready to expand our network and bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the table.
And finally, a note on our hybrid model: for RightsCon Costa Rica, proposers had the opportunity to choose both a format and a mode – hybrid, in-person, or online – for the session. The majority of proposals (about 80 percent) noted a preference for either a hybrid or in-person environment, which shows the excitement and appeal of face-to-face interaction after so many years in which our community could not convene in the same physical space, due to persisting health risks and travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, a significant proportion of proposers still opted for online, as an environment which offers more flexibility, accessibility, and convenience for participants.
The hidden figures behind the program: trends to watch
The digital rights landscape is perpetually in motion. Influenced by many factors, from technological innovation to changing social behaviors, the Call for Proposals is a manifestation of some of the most visible trends at the intersection of human rights and technology, as well as the challenges and issues which still lurk under the surface and demand more attention.
Generative AI and large language and vision models exploded in late 2022, sparking global debates and changing the way we use the internet. Our community has a finger firmly on the pulse and is posing critical questions on the ethical and legal implications. Submitted proposals span development and uses of synthetic media, regulatory frameworks, and potential for bias. We see significant interest in the question of authorship and ownership and the ramifications for creativity, copyright, and intellectual property.
As escalating persecution and threats force journalists, researchers, and investigative reporters in Latin America to flee from their homes and across borders, journalism in exile emerged as a key trend with submitted proposals placing a spotlight on the risks and barriers media actors face living and reporting from exile. Session proposers will share resilience models and examine the use of networks and alliances, new technologies, and digital tools to keep communities informed from afar.
Our community continues to call out – and call for action on – the use of spyware in political and corporate surveillance of human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil society watchdogs. Proposals demonstrate how strategic litigation and advocacy to restrict spyware can be used as an avenue for the surveilled to push back, with a particular focus on regional efforts to table evidentiary and jurisdictional issues, and share challenges and opportunities for litigation in spyware cases.
As new technologies, which rely on the gathering, processing, and sharing of data, are increasingly used by states in border management systems and infrastructures, the Call for Proposals places a magnifying glass on the impact of border surveillance and biometric identification systems on individuals and communities. With for-profit surveillance technologies increasingly placed in the hands of national security and defense authorities, and the acceleration of health, environmental, and humanitarian crises which drive the movement of people across borders, there is a collective push from civil society to demand accountability for the abuses committed as a result of invasive screening and surveillance measures at frontiers, checkpoints, and points of entry.
Another prominent trend in the Call for Proposals is the intersection of disinformation and gender-based violence. We see gendered disinformation recognized and highlighted as a form of abuse and harassment, used specifically to target and discredit public and political figures who identify as women, as well as LGBTQ+ activists and movements. Session proposers seek to expose disinformation tactics and campaigns, showcase the weakening effects on democracies, and share methods and regulatory standards for countering gendered disinformation.
What’s the carbon footprint of the internet? What does product development and repair look like in a warming world? How can companies and advocates use technology to further climate mitigation, innovation, and adaptation strategies? The public and private sector continues to search for the answers to these questions and consider how to advance climate technology and advocacy into the next decade. Proposals submitted for RightsCon Costa Rica explore gaps and enablers behind the digital ecological transition, including breakdowns of the environmental effects of technology, blueprints for tackling climate disinformation, efforts to reduce digital carbon emissions, and tactics to bolster equitable and transformational change as part of the climate justice movement.
As ever, RightsCon proposers did not shy away from politics and political developments around the globe. Looking back at national elections that occurred in the past year, and forward to the charged political races and campaigns anticipated for 2024, a number of sessions offered tools and approaches to address election disinformation and the dangers it poses to democratic integrity and human rights. Proposals took on a range of issues, including factors that facilitate the spread of disinformation on social media platforms, the impact of censorship, and the weaponization of disinformation, online influence campaigns, and state media under authoritarian regimes.
Under construction: program announcements coming soon
If you proposed a session for RightsCon Costa Rica, you will hear from us in late March about the final status of your proposal. We’re happy to share that the Program Committee – a team of 70+ experts from around the world – has completed its evaluation of the Call for Proposals and handed off the review to our team for a final look.
We would like to thank all of our Program Committee members for their time and effort, especially our first-ever set of thematic advisors, who provided comments on session proposals related to one of our intersecting themes on gender justice, health, disability rights, and environmental sustainability.
Registration for RightsCon Costa Rica is now open, and the deadline to secure early bird tickets has been extended until April 7, 2023. If your session is accepted into the program, you’ll receive a menu of discount codes (reserved for session organizers, speakers, and facilitators) which apply for both online and in-person ticket types.
In the meantime, as you prepare for your journey to San José (or online), keep an eye on our website for updates about travel, visa support, safety and security, accessibility, and much more. Any other questions? Reach out to our team at [email protected], and we’ll be in touch.