In 2015, Afef Abrougui, a 25 year old Tunisian digital journalist received our MSR Scholarship in order to pursue a Master of Arts in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. After finishing her MA, Afef welcomed the opportunities she discovered in the Netherlands. Today she reflects on her time as a student and MSR scholar. Here is what she had to say about her study experience as well as her personal and professional development after her studies:
“The program I pursued helped develop my knowledge in the field that I’m currently working on: the intersection of technology and human rights. The time I spent working on my thesis allowed me to expand my knowledge and expertise regarding content moderation by commercial social media platforms and how their platforms affect users’ freedom of expression. I also got to learn about issues I hadn’t had the chance to think about before such as the materiality of new media and how these tools have an impact on the environment or the roles played by algorithms play in prioritizing which content we get to see online. More generally, the opportunity I had to work with other students on common projects allowed to develop my skills in working with others.
Following my graduation, I applied for the Orientation Year for Highly Skilled Migrant and I spent it looking for a job and networking with other people and organizations working on human rights issues here. My volunteer experience at Global Voices, my current employer, was a key to my success. I joined Global Voices in 2011 as a contributor, which allowed me to learn about technology and human rights, improve my journalistic and writing skills and be part of a supportive and amazing community. What motivates me and inspires me to continue to achieve and reach my full potential is my strong belief in people’s human rights and the fact that I am part of such an inspiring and restless community. At these politically and socially challenging times, there is more than ever a need to bridge the gap between the Arab region and the West, Europe included. Education is a useful way to help achieve that.
All in all, my experience in the Netherlands has so far been rewarding and informative. I learnt a lot when I was studying for my Master’s in 2015-2016. In addition to expanding my knowledge regarding issues related directly to my field—the rights to freedom of expression and privacy—, I also learned about other issues related to new media. The most eye-opening issue was the impact of new media on the environment and labour rights. Broadly, I also developed my skills in academic writing and working with others, since the program offered several opportunities for group assignments. The second semester was my favourite part since I got to work on my MA thesis on a topic of my choosing and with a great supervisor. The research and writing process was laborious, but rewarding. I learned a lot in the process and my supervisor and I were both happy with the end-result. I used Turkey as a case study to write about the implications for freedom of expression of commercial social media platforms’ policies and practices of removing content and suspending user accounts to comply with local laws (with a particular focus on Facebook and Twitter). While focusing on my studies, I also tried to engage in other activities. I arrived to the Netherlands at the height of the so-called refugee crisis. So, I joined a group of volunteers from different backgrounds and nationalities welcoming refugees at the Amsterdam Central Station. I also took a documentary filmmaking course at the cultural center of the University of Amsterdam (CREA). I always wanted to work on my documentary filmmaking skills and this was a great opportunity for me to start somewhere. In a nutshell, this was my year as a student in Amsterdam. After that I applied for the Orientation Year for Highly Skilled Migrants to look for a job here. I am now employed full time and I continue to work on human rights. I have also made progress with my career (and my Dutch :-D) and I continue to develop my network here in the Netherlands, in the Arab region and elsewhere in the world. Today my main focus is on the corporate policies and practices of ICT companies, including tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, and how they affect people’s rights. My aim is to contribute to the conversation from a non-western perspective and to draw companies’ attention to their human rights impacts in the Global South, including the Arab region.”
To read Afef’s Master thesis see here.