Mapping (in)visibility and structural injustice in the digital space

Elsevier, Journal of Responsible Technology, Volume 9, April 2022, 100024
Kebene Wodajo

This study aims to map digitally mediated injustice and to understand how judicial versus non-judicial bodies contextualize and translate such harm into human rights violations. This study surveys judicial and quasi-judicial cases and case reports by non-judicial bodies, mainly civil society organizations, international organizations, and media. It divides digitally mediated harms identified through the survey into three categories: direct, structural, and hybrid harm. It then examines how these three forms of harm are represented and articulated in judicial judgments and case reports. To differentiate between the three forms of digitally mediated harm, the study uses Iris Young's political philosophy of structural injustice and Johan Galtung's account of structural violence in peace studies. The focus of this study is understanding the forms of injustices that are present but rendered invisible because of how they are contextualized. Therefore, the epistemology of absence is applied as the theoretical approach, that is, interpretation of absence and invisibility. The epistemology of absence facilitates the identification of structural and intersectional injustices that are not articulated in the same way they are experienced in society. The assessment reveals four observations. (1) Structural injustice is rarely examined through a conventional adjudicatory process. (2) Harms of structural quality examined by courts are narrowly interpreted when translated into rights violations. (3) The right to privacy, often presented as a gateway right, addresses structural injustice only partially, as this right has a subject-centric narrow interpretation currently. (4) There are limitations to the mainstream way of seeing and representing risks and injustices in the digital space, and such a view yields metonymic reasoning when framing digitally produced harms. As a result, the conventional way of contextualization is blind to unconventional experiences of vulnerability, which renders structural and intersectional injustices experienced by marginalized communities invisible.