connectivity & child protection
There's been an interesting Twitter conversations going on about child protection lately, some of which led to a revisiting of the "Kristof identified a child rape victim" debacle from this past winter. Kristof, you may recall, published a half-hearted apology/excuse blog post in which he said that it really didn't matter that he has printed a nine-year-old's face and name in one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. The reason it didn't matter, he argued, is that she lives in such a remote area that it's unlikely she or anyone she knows will have access to the internet, find the story, and use it as a basis for retaliation.
I was thinking about all of these issues when the team over at Africa is a Country posted this map of internet connectivity juxtaposed against population on the continent. As you can see, while the DRC is not among the top five connected countries on the continent, it is one of the most populous, and there seems to be a connection between population and higher levels of connectivity.
Is Kristof right that this child will never be in danger because she lives in a remote area in one of the least connected places on the planet? I think it's a really important question, one that sits at the core of determining how to handle difficult stories like this one.
Kristof said that the village in which the child lives is a four-hour hike from the road, which is some distance away from Bukavu, the nearest city in which internet access, mobile phone connectivity, and semi-reliable electricity are available. Fine. I think he's probably right that for today, she is safe. It's extremely unlikely that anyone in her village will use the internet this year, much less find the pictures of her face or read a story written about her (in English).
But I'm much less certain that this will be true in the years to come. If and when the Kivus ever stabilize, the mobile phone networks that sprung up almost overnight will move into the forests, making it easier and easier for people to get online. In fact, they already have a much wider network than you might imagine. One of the interesting side effects of state collapse is that the lack of regulation makes for a totally free market. This means that, while places like the eastern DRC can be a miserable place to live for most of its residents, there are often better products and services available there than in much more stable countries. Witness the quality and variety of goods available in Goma's markets on a weekday morning. Rwandans cross the border by the hundreds to shop every day. But Goma's residents don't look to Gisenyi's well-regulated, clean market stalls for their needs.
Likewise, internet access in Goma was for years far better than anything one could find in Rwanda. Goma doesn't have a functioning postal system, but high-speed satellite connections (while expensive) were readily available in 2005, and access has only improved as knowledge and equipment spreads. It's almost become a cliche to talk about the extensiveness and quality of Somalia's cell phone networks.
In other words, the DRC is not a desolate outpost of civilization. Access to information is more widely available than ever before, and I don't see that access decreasing anytime soon. Which brings us back to the number one rule of protecting children who are victims of violent crime: there is never, ever any reason to publish or share a child victim's identifying details with members of the general public. Even with informed consent. Even if telling the story might bring more awareness or more donations or more fame for the reporter. There's just no excuse.
Labels: the kristof strikes again