Working Towards an Inclusive Digital Society

2019, Summit Confronting the Disinformation Age, Media + Information, Equity + Justice

This interactive forum will address current practices, challenges and possibilities for justice-based approach to digital literacy education in communities that experience various forms of marginality across income, ability, health, gender and race. One area in which these inequalities are manifesting and intensifying is in digital ecosystems, where automated government, technology design and market-based digital infrastructure are pushing people to the margins of citizenship in a digital era. The forum adopts an intersectional approach to consider relationships between digital literacy and digital justice, paying close attention to equity, and how different groups are being positioned within digital ecosystems.

The forum will thus be of interest to adult educators and literacy workers, researchers, community agencies, libraries, policy makers and other stakeholders who want to learn about and share experiences of digital justice issues as they are emerging in their communities.

Forum Goals

a) Share digital justice issues in communities, research and policy (for example: access to secure wifi and internet; equitable access to effective digital education; e-government service design;online-only services that exclude communities; privacy and surveillance of marginalized citizens; data uses and AI...);

b) Showcase promising pedagogies, policies, designs and resources for addressing these issues;

c) Identify policy and programming issues that need more study and advocacy with a view to forming a coalition for digital inclusion and justice in BC. assum.

Fri, 12 Apr 2019

10:00 a.m. (PT)

Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, B.C.

We respectfully acknowledge that this event takes place on the Unceded, Traditional, Ancestral Territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm First Nations.

About Confronting the Disinformation Age

SFU Public Square’s 2019 Community Summit considered how the proliferation of disinformation is impacting society and challenging our capacity to make informed decisions about our economic, social, and political lives. Together, we co-created strategies to ensure stronger and healthier information ecosystems and stimulate more connected and resilient communities.

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The Disinformation Age
Information is fundamental to our existence. Without it, we cannot understand or effectively respond to the events that shape our world. Throughout history, campaigns to deliberately spread false information to influence public opinion or obscure the truth have been launched by individuals, organizations, and governments. But today, we’re living in a new age of information facilitated primarily by digital technology. These advancements offer us extraordinary access to facts and data but also allow for harmful, inaccurate, and manipulated information to be created and disseminated at an unprecedented speed, scope, and scale. Falsehoods are pitted against facts in competition for our attention and technology is used to exploit our cognitive functioning without repercussion. In what is being called the “post-truth” era, the distortion of our information landscape is eroding our trust in institutions, political systems, the media, and each other.


Marianela Ramos Capelo is OpenMedia’s Design Specialist: Connecting missions: the role of digital justive in our fight for human rights.

  1. Facilitated discussion groups #1: Participants will sign up to participate in discussion circles on themes including (and still to be finalized): accessible and affordable internet and public computing; leading practices in digital pedagogies; digital access in indigenous communities; SOGI and online experiences; e-government and low income communities; racialized youth and digital access. These groups are led by people who experience digital exclusion, by community-based educators and by policy-makers and researchers.
  2. Panel: Digital justice and intersectionality
  3. Break out discussions round 2 (participants sign up for a second discussion topic (see topics in #1)
  4. Forum closure: Sharing key points of the day and identify action steps. Is a digital justice coalition needed and feasible? Next steps?

Event Recap

Working Towards A Digitally Inclusive Society — Summary Report to SFU Public Square

Suzanne Smythe (SFU Faculty of Education)
Dionne Pelan (UBC Learning Exchange)
William Booth (DTES Literacy Roundtable)

Forum goals and activities

The one-day forum Working Towards A Digitally Inclusive Society was held on April 12, 2019 bringing together for the first time in BC agencies and stakeholders concerned with digital literacy and digital rights. The goals of the forum were to raise awareness about the connections between digital education and digital rights, share information about issues of digital inequalities people were experiencing, and gage interest in further collaboration and collective action. 110 participants registered and 108 attended for all or most of the day. These participants included representatives from frontline literacy and social service agencies, university researchers, librarians, non-profit social rights and anti-poverty groups and adults who experience digital inequalities. 

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Key messages and conversations

The day began with a welcoming by Elder Doris Fox who reminded us that communities work best when ‘no one is above and now one is below’. This imperative to lift up marginalized voices and those who experience discrimination online and offline arose over and over during the day.

The keynote speaker, Marianela Ramos of Open Media introduced the concept of digital rights, the ways in which digital rights are being transgressed through digital technologies and the need for a collective movement to address this. Ramos’ address gave workshop participants language, terminology and concepts to work with during discussion groups held throughout the day on topics including:

  • The work of libraries in digital equity;
  • The need for an equity lens in City of Vancouver’s digital strategy, and for more participation from everyday citizens in how this is rolling out;
  • The poor design of government online forms and services that keep low income people away from resources;
  • The deep inequalities in access to high speed Internet among Indigenous communities that leads to education and socio-economic exclusions;
  • The role of digital media in the safety and security of street involved youth;
  • Promising practices in teaching digital literacy from a rights perspective;
  • The role of Free Geek in promoting environmental and social sustainability via hardware and software.

The afternoon panel, moderated by Vancouver Community College educator Shantel Ivets, drew on the concept of intersectionality to make visible how different groups are positioned online and in digital policy through relations of colonialism, racism and discrimination. We heard from groups how digital policies and government and corporate uses of artificial intelligences disproportionately harm LGBTQ2S+ communities, Indigenous communities, low income and racialized citizens and migrant workers.

Successes and take-aways.

The support of SFU Harbour Centre and SFU Public Square to include the Forum in the activities of the Community Summit on Disinformation provided an ideal opportunity to extend the reach and capacity of the Forum. This allowed us to make connections between disinformation and digital inequalities, and to include in this vital conversation grassroots community groups and local citizens. These groups sent clear messages:

  • ‘Nothing about us without us’: people who are affected by digital technologies and policies should have a role in their design;
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ in digital inclusion. All agencies and institutions should consider how different groups will be affected by their digital policies;
  • Digital equity and inclusion are not add-ons: All organizations and institutions should build these into their work;
  • Digital inclusion is not by default a ‘good thing’: we must consider the kind of society in which people are being included and the potential for harm by being online;
  • More information is needed about how different groups are affected by digital inequalities;
  • Educators need more training in digital literacy strategies. Digital literacy should not only be about teaching people how to use technologies and digital information, but also how to question them;
  • Digital education is also about educating governments and institutions about the effects of their policies, strategies and designs in people’s lives
  • There is a need to continue a big tent coalition across sectors and disciplines because digital society affects everyone;

Feedback and next steps

We had a budget for 100 participants and many more wanted to come. We would like to expand participation in the Forum or hold such events more often, with smaller groups. We will also create more opportunity for participants to share their work with one another, more time for the group discussions and a venue that has capacity for parallel sessions to accommodate hands-on workshops.

We received 60 + evaluations. Some representative comments:

What did you like most about today?

[I appreciated] the diversity of voices in the room. Having indigenous voices, trans and queer voices, community and academic voices gave a rich conversation with many crucial points.

Liked the criticality in the room. No censorship. Lots of thoughtfulness.

Everything – everyone was a wealth of information. I’m new in this area and I feel like I can start to ask the right questions to serve our clientele; Concentration of expertise was amazing.

How important the framing is of justice, access, risk, privacy, safety, etc. One community’s stance is not the same as another’s.

What were some challenges of the day?

As always, momentum and sustainability. How to keep the good ideas and intentions harnessed for further good work?

The scale of the issues can be overwhelming but they are important for all of us. How do we deal with this as under-resourced groups?

It feels like we could not take deep dived into the issues-->we just skimmed the surface. Not sure how it could have been structured for more in-depth conversations. You made a good first start.

There was consensus that we need another such forum next year, supported by calls to action that will emerge from this first forum. We are grateful for the collaboration with Open Media, the Digital Justice Lab, SFU Public Square and SFU Harbour Centre, the UBC Learning Exchange, the DTES Literacy Roundtable, SFU and UBC Faculties of Education, the Vancouver Public Library and more….and we hope we can build on these relations to take this work further.

The forum raised issues of digital inequity in all its forms and we see this as an area for further research and public education, particularly as the ‘smart city’, big data, digital governments and automation unfold. The success of the partnerships that made the forum possible also shows that universities have a key role in supporting under-resourced community groups such as those who attended and organized the forum, for example in support for meeting venues, helping to find and generate relevant data, supporting research collaborations, and promoting the work underway in community venues.

Download the Report

Reports and Resources

Confronting the Disinformation Age | Resources

Books, articles, videos and other resources on disinformation.

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