Today (20 February) is WORLD DAY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE – a global observance that highlights the social injustice throughout the world and suggests solutions and improvements for it. This year’s theme is “A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy”.
The digital economy is transforming the world of work. Over the past decade, expansion in broadband connectivity, cloud computing, and data have led to the proliferation of digital platforms, which have penetrated several sectors of the economy and societies.
Since early 2020, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to remote working arrangements and allowed for the continuation of many business activities, further reinforcing the growth and impact of the digital economy.
However, “The crisis has also laid bare and exacerbated the growing digital divide within, between and across developed and developing countries, particularly in terms of the availability, affordability and use of information ICTs and access to the Internet, deepening existing inequalities,” the UN says.
With the steady rise in the usage of the Internet, the global economy is becoming increasingly dependent on the digital medium. More specifically, due to the COVID-19 lockdown in several countries, people resorted to remote working areas. With the expanding broadband, the Internet was consumed all the more from homes around the world.
“However, only the fortunate were able to benefit from this. There are still jobs that are not dependent on the worldwide web. This resulted in a wave of unemployment with people losing the only way to earn their bread,” a Times Now Digital article points out.
The pandemic is highlighting how serious the consequences are for the more than 3.6 billion people that lack reliable, affordable, and meaningful access to the Internet. Ultimately, a digital economy and digital society only exists for those who are connected to it, and the people who are falling into digital and economic poverty are disproportionately poor people, women, and communities of colour.
We must rally together now to build the communities and investment vehicles necessary to deliver meaningful access to all. Stable, just, digital economies depend on it, tech experts say.
Also important is fighting disinformation and harmful content, says Prof. Michael Posner, Jerome Kohlberg Professor of Ethics and Finance; and Director of the Center for Business and Human Rights in the Stern School of Business.
“The rapid expansion of social media in recent years overall has strengthened social justice movements by providing free, easily accessible information and promoting its wide distribution. Yet at the same time, the deliberate misuse of these same platforms has contributed in many cases to an erosion of social justice and poses a growing threat,” he says in an interview with weforum.org.
These setbacks are the result of the dissemination of hate speech, disinformation and other harmful content on social media sites. Disinformation distorts the truth and accelerates racial, ethnic and political polarization. The Internet did not create these divisions, but it is amplifying them, Prof. Posner says.
In order to ensure social justice, the major social media platforms need to assume much greater responsibility for moderating the content on their sites. They have immediate access to what appears on their platforms. The algorithms they have built determine how content is ranked and recommended.
“They also have the unique capacity to identify harmful content and label, demote or remove it. To date, these companies have not stepped up to their responsibilities, despite widespread and growing demands that they do so. In the absence of vigorous corporate self-regulation, governments are exerting greater regulatory authority over social media,” says Prof. Posner.
The above are all crucial points to consider as we celebrate World Day of Social Justice today. As the quote by Frederick Douglass goes: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”