CASM: How do we change the future of tech?

This is a time of existential change, and technology has a role in it all. Climate change is accelerating, while blockchain technologies outstrip the carbon footprint of entire countries. Global violence is fuelled by disinformation online, from the Russian attacks on Ukraine to conflict in Ethiopia. Information spaces become surveillance tools for states perpetrating atrocities. 

Our work at CASM speaks to a shared belief that this is not the inevitable future of the internet or technology. Freedom, openness, equality, democracy and justice, fighting violence, oppression and exploitation: these are values that the internet was built on, and already helps to enable. Our mission at CASM is to find how it can realise this promise: to help define, measure and advocate for an internet and technologies that protect and promote liberal democratic values and human rights.  

Since its inception, CASM has led the way in thinking in new ways about the challenges and opportunities of tech – from developing innovative methods to investigate online spaces and what we can learn from them to, over the last three years, developing a positive vision for a liberal democratic internet that embraces and invests in its public democratic potential. 

And the world (with a little nudge, we like to think) – has made a similar journey. Earlier this year, the US published the Declaration on the Future of the Internet, signed by over 60 international partners, including the UK and EU Member States, which committed to ‘promote and sustain an Internet that: is an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure and to ensure that the Internet reinforces democratic principles and human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

These principles are hugely important, and represent a powerful vision for the future. But the question now becomes: how do we realise this vision? How do we bring this future into being? 

How do we tackle the harms that arise from disinformation without cementing the narratives of the powerful as ‘the truth’? How do we reduce the risks of identity-based violence spreading online, without incentivising mass censorship and internet shutdowns? How do we develop accessible services that don’t rely on advertising and data collection to be sustainable? How do we redistribute power away from unaccountable private corporations, without handing it straight to undemocratic governments? How do we design, use and govern technology in a way that engages with the reality of how it can be weaponised – in a way that supports justice and liberation, rather than compounding injustices and oppression.

These are the difficult questions that it is our mission to help answer. And to do so, it’s crucial that we involve those on the technological frontlines – from communities who are most affected by and are leading the fight against online violence, extremism, surveillance, to those who invest in creating healthy and supportive online communities, to those who build and develop new and open technologies for good. There is a wealth of experience, of experimentation, of evidence, of collaboration and collective power that exists where people are brought together by technology. 

We’re already making headway: we’ve just published our research, built through engaging with those who work in open standards and open source software, on how we can build a more sustainable open infrastructure ecosystem. And over the next few months, we’ll be working on projects including: fair settlements for those who contribute their labour to online spaces; how the workings of the data economy threatens citizens’ privacy; the threats to the integrity of online democratic discourse.

I’m incredibly excited to be leading CASM as we tackle these challenges. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with CASM for the last three years – work that wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant CASM team, past, present and future, as well as our partners at the University of Sussex. Particular thanks has to go to Alex Krasodomski-Jones, for his leadership over the last three years of CASM and the Good Web Project. 

We are also lucky to have an extraordinary, international network of partners who we work with – who fund our work and make it possible; who support us with their time and expertise – who work with us in coalition to design and build consensus around solutions for the thorniest of problems. If you think any of these sound like it could also be you – please get in touch! These aren’t fights we can take on alone: and we hope you’ll join us on the journey.