Bread&Net Fiction Prize: Digital Utopias and Futures

Update: The deadline is Sunday, September 18.

There is no doubt that today’s digital spaces are mainly ruled by a handful of profit-hungry technology megacorporations. Their practices benefit society’s most powerful and exclude marginalized groups and individuals. From social media platforms to search engines to our GPS technologies, the internet is not as free as we’d like to believe. But can it be otherwise? How can the internet operate in ways that uplift peoples, democracies, and the globe, rather than further harm the disadvantaged? 

We’re seeking stories that imagine digital futures where online communities succeed in propelling the values of openness, tolerance, the free exchange of knowledge, and collective efforts for social justice and transborder liberation.

Although this was the initial “utopian” promise of digital technology—and the internet in particular— tech companies under capitalism did quite the opposite. They made it easier to surveil, control, profile, and profit from our data, bodies, and behaviors, often in ways obscure to us. This lack of transparency made it almost impossible to challenge and change their policies and practices. 

Governments, in compliance with tech companies, have repeatedly abused the internet and communications technologies to spread political disinformation, identify and prosecute rightful dissent, muzzle free speech online, and incite senseless violence. We have also seen how artificial intelligence and machine learning often inherit, replicate and amplify social, racial, and gender bias and prejudice, threatening the wellbeing and livelihood of minority groups and entire peoples.

At Bread&Net 2022, we are opening the space for creative writers with lived experience of marginalization and/or from grassroots social justice movements to imagine how the world would look if technologies had been used to truly free, protect, and advance humanity and the planet. 

Writers will be given creative freedom as long as the main principles of the story are met which include:

    • A science fiction short story
    • Fundamentally about the intersection of technology, people, and the planet on the themes of platform power, artificial intelligence, and state surveillance, among others
    • Within the word limit 
    • Use of inclusive language
    • Original material that is not published anywhere else
    • Following SMEX’s values

Language: We accept pieces in both Arabic and English languages. 

Length: Each short sci-fi story should be between 3000-4500 words approximately.

Prize: Each of the three chosen writers will win a flight to Beirut to attend Bread&Net 2022. Accommodation is covered.
Selected writers based in Beirut will win 500 USD.

Submissions: Please submit your pitch, previous work showcasing your writing (~3000 words), and your resume using this form before Aug 30, 2022
Update: The deadline is Sunday, September 18.

Shortlisted candidates will be contacted for an interview to discuss their ideas further.

SMEX Values
We abide by the principles of ethical journalism to ensure independence from external influences, accuracy and fairness in reporting, and representation of complex issues related to the intersection of technology and human rights in ways that are informed, nuanced and comprehensive. 

We believe in human rights, online and offline, and strive to defend access to information and freedom of expression and the rights to privacy and nondiscrimination in digital spaces. We acknowledge that while digital technology can serve as an enabler of civic participation and the exercise of fundamental freedoms, it is also exploited and/or designed by corporate, state and non-state actors in ways that are harmful to society, human rights and vulnerable communities. 

We believe in the power of collaborative work, free knowledge, and in encouraging and promoting original content from and about the region. We aim to center marginalized voices in our coverage of human rights online-related issues while fostering a diversity of opinion and thought.


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SMEX is a registered Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East and North Africa.