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Democratizing Digital Activism: Tools for Turning Information into Action

Is digital activism truly democratic? While encouraged by great examples of digital activism in action, I remained uneasy with universalizing narratives about an equal, liberating and benevolent digital frontier.

Is the social change potential of digital realizable in the same way for everyone, everywhere? Can local communities, especially ones that have been historically marginalized, use digital tools to solve chronic problems such as poverty, political persecution, and racism, offline? Or do we just leave this important business to the big names in the social change market (i.e. large NGOs and the digital experts hired by those organizations)?

Sure, anybody with a camera-equipped phone can be a citizen journalist and an “information activist” these days. And ostensibly, we have seen the rise of a “digital democracy”, offering opportunities for radical social change, especially via the sharing of information and calls to action on the Internet.

A 2011 study argues that the social Web is in fact, dominated by elite viewpoints rather than being the democracy it is commonly perceived to be. It concludes that the working class, for example, is underrepresented on the Internet and without their voices, their issues are ignored.

Not completely convinced by an academic study, I went looking for more examples, this time of tools which safely and securely make digital activism accessible to anyone and enable everyday people, especially marginalized communities, to effectively use information and technology to create positive social change.

That’s when I came across The Tactical Technology Collective (Tactical Tech). They have a three-pronged approach to enhance activism via information and technology that I really liked:

  • Act - Turning information into action
  • Reveal - Visualizing data and information for advocacy
  • Protect - Securing advocates from the risks of digital activism

Tactical Tech provides a ton of useful toolkits and guides translated in up to 20 languages, and even a robot that helps activists survive the digital age. All are free.

One of their most popular tools is the 10 Tactics for turning information into action:

  1. Mobilise People - bring them to action
  2. Witness and Record - someone is watching
  3. Visualise Your Message - picture it
  4. Amplify Personal Stories - no one is listening
  5. Just Add Humor - provoke a smile
  6. Manage Your Contacts - understand your connections
  7. Use Complex Data - make it simple
  8. Use Collective Intelligence - report it live
  9. Let People Ask Questions - technology that listens
  10. Investigate and Expose - reveal the truth

Centering on a 50-minute video - broken into interactive chapters - the tactics are being used by activists worldwide. You can also see all 10 tactics in videos on YouTube.

How are you using information and technology to drive positive social change? Use #digitalactivism to tell us on Twitter.

Image source: The Tactical Technology Collective
[Quoted Study] Poetics, Volume 39, Issue 2, April 2011, Pages 145-168, DOI: 10.1016/j.poetic.2011.02.003

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