Wednesday December 5th, 4pm to 5pm, Diamond Lecture Theatre 8

DATA WITNESSING: ATTENDING TO HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS WITH DATA IN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S DECODERS INITIATIVE

Jonathan Gray, Kings College London

The concept of witnessing has been used to explore the construction of evidence and experience in settings of law, religion, atrocity, media, history and science. Recent research has examined how digital technologies may multiply the involvement of remote, non-present and unanticipated actors in the witnessing of events. This paper examines what digital data practices at Amnesty International’s Decoders initiative (decoders.amnesty.org) can add to the understanding of witnessing. It introduces the notion of “data witnessing” with reference to four projects on (i) witnessing historical abuses with digitised documents; (ii) witnessing the destruction of villages with satellite imagery and machine learning; (iii) witnessing environmental injustice with company reports and photographs; and (iv) witnessing online abuse with Twitter data. These projects illustrate the configuration of experimental apparatuses for witnessing human rights situations in, by and through data. In contrast to accounts which emphasise the presence of an individual human witness at the scene, Amnesty’s data practices are conspicuously collective and distributed, rendering the systemic scale of injustices at a distance, across space and time. Such practices may contribute to research on both (new) media witnessing and data politics, suggesting ways in which care, concern and solidarity may be constructed, structured, extended and delimited by means of digital data.

Bio: Jonathan Gray is lecturer in critical infrastructure studies at the Department of DigitalHumanities, King’s College London where he is currently writing a book on ‘data worlds’ and the politics of public information. He is also Co-Founder of the Public Data Lab and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.