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April 20 2012


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

April 12 2012


Digital Activism: Technology Efforts Inspiring Social Change Offline

In the wake of the controversial KONY2012 video and its related drama and theatrics, I was left feeling somewhat jaded about the power of the digital to affect meaningful and tangible change on the ground (offline).

Surely, a successful deployment of technology for social good can offer us more than a soap opera like media frenzy. Can the success of such efforts be measured beyond YouTube views and money raised?

I decided to channel my post KONY2012 digital skepticism into a search for concrete examples where the power of technology was affecting real change in the lives of people in local communities, especially those communities and people that have the most need.

So how was digital technology educating and sharing knowledge, and more importantly transforming lives?

Well, how about like this:

  • 15K Youth and Community Leaders Trained
  • 76K People Reached by Community Advocates
  • 240 Million Exposed to a Multimedia Campaign
  • 7.5 Million “Sensitized” by a Video Van

Watch this video for an example that walks the walk:

In 2008 Breakthrough India launched Bell Bajao! (Ring the Bell), a national level campaign in India asking communities to join to end violence against women. Truly amazing is how the campaign has involved men and young boys to end the violence against and transform attitudes about women. Not a common approach or an easy feat.

Bell Bajao has become a peer leader in raising this issue on the Internet through the use of multimedia, hosting survivor stories on a blog, celebrity endorsements, map for social change, social media engagement, training toolkits, information and community stories of change.

More related campaign videos can be found on Breakthrough’s YouTube page.

Give us your take on effective digital activism. What works? What doesn’t? Share other inspiring examples. Use #digitalactivism on Twitter.

Sponsored post

March 30 2012


This Week in Review: Grappling with ground-up activism, and a new ‘pay-less’ form of paywall

Activism and journalism from the ground up: Now that the story of Trayvon Martin’s killing has moved fully into the U.S.’ national consciousness, a few writers have taken a look back to examine the path it took to get there. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter traced the story’s rise to prominence, highlighting the role of racial diversity in newsrooms in drawing attention to it. Poynter’s Kelly McBride gave a more detailed review of the story’s path through the media, concluding: “This is how stories are told now. They are told by people who care passionately, until we all care.” (This week, there was also bottom-up sourcing of a more dubious nature on the story, as the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pointed out.)

The New York Times’ David Carr looked at the Trayvon Martin story and several other web-driven campaigns to assess the value of “hashtag activism,” acknowledging its limitations but concluding that while web activism is no match for its offline counterpart, it still makes the world a better place.

There were several other strains of conversation tying into digital activism and citizen journalism this week: the Lab re-printed a Talking Points Memo story on the unreliability of Twitter buzz as a predictor of election results, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing wondered whether social media movements have surpassed the impact of traditional journalism on many issues.

Meanwhile, the report of an embellished photo from a citizen journalist in Syria led some to question the reliability of that information, but GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram countered that citizen journalism isn’t displacing traditional journalism, but helping complement it when used wisely. One of Ingram’s prime examples of that blending of traditional and citizen-powered journalism was NPR tweeter extraordinaire Andy Carvin, who was the subject of a fine Current profile, in which he described Twitter as “the newsroom where I spend my time” and pinpointing news judgment as the key ingredient in his journalistic curation process.

Debating the effectiveness of news paywalls: Google formally unveiled its new paywall alternative in partnership with publishers this week: News sites include surveys that users need to answer in order to read an article. Google pays news sites a nickel per answer, advertisers pay Google for the survey, everybody goes home happy. Just a few publishers have signed up so far, though. (You might remember that the Lab’s Justin Ellis wrote on Google’s testing of this idea last fall.)

Elsewhere in paywalls: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said his paper has not ruled out a paywall plan, though he also clarified that there’s “nothing on the horizon.” His publication is, obviously, far from the only one grappling with the prospect of charging for content online: The New Republic’s new owner dropped the magazine’s paywall for recent articles, and The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, explained why he doesn’t see a paywall in that paper’s future.

Pexton said the Post first needs to build up its reader base and make sure the site’s technology runs better, and he cast some doubt on the helpfulness of The New York Times’ pay plan for its bottom line. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum picked apart Pexton’s analysis of the Times’ numbers, and asserted that a paywall’s purpose isn’t to be enormously profitable, and non-paywall digital revenue plans aren’t, either. “The point [of a paywall] is to stop or slow the bleeding and to help make the transition to an all-digital future five or ten years down the line — one that includes more than one flimsy revenue stream based on volatile and not-very-lucrative digital ads,” he wrote.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram suggested a “velvet rope” approach to paid content instead of a paywall, in which users would volunteer to pay in exchange for privileges and perks. The Times’ David Carr was skeptical — on Twitter, he summarized the post as, “Don’t build a paywall, create a velvet rope made out of socmedia pixie dust and see if that pays the bills.”

The Guardian opens up: The Guardian is firmly positioning itself at the forefront of what it calls “open journalism,” as it hosted a festival last weekend called the Guardian Open Weekend, during which more than 5,000 readers visited its London offices. The paper recapped the event, and Polis’ Charlie Beckett urged The Guardian to go further and faster in incorporating readers into its production process, turning them from “readers” to “members.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger held a Q&A with readers on open journalism, in which he spoke of the tension between the print and digital products in enacting change: “In order to be effective digital companies newspapers have to free themselves of some of the thinking that goes into the creation or a printed product…But most of the revenue is still in print, so the transition is bound to be a staged one, involving fine judgements about the pace of change.” Rusbridger also tweeted the paper’s 10 principles of open journalism, which were helpfully Storified by Josh Stearns, along with some other open journalism resources.

New accusations against News Corp.: A new branch grew out of News Corp.’s ever-growing tree of scandals this week, when two news orgs in Britain and Australia almost simultaneously broke stories about alleged hacking by NDS Group, a British satellite TV company of which News Corp. owns 49 percent. According to the BBC and the Australian Financial Review, NDS hired hackers to break into its competitors’ systems and get codes for satellite TV cards to illegally leak them to the public, giving them pay-TV services for free. The New York Times knitted the two allegations together well.

The Australian Federal Police is now looking into the case, and Reuters reported on the growing pressure for new investigations against News Corp. in Britain and Australia. Meanwhile, Frontline aired a documentary on the scandal, and The Guardian reported on Rupert Murdoch’s attacks on the accusations on Twitter.

Mike Daisey, journalism, and advocacy: Interest in last week’s blowup over This American Life’s retraction of Mike Daisey’s fabricated story about abuses of Chinese factory workers turned out to be more intense than expected: As the Lab’s Andrew Phelps reported, the retraction was the most downloaded episode in TAL history, surpassing the previous record set by the original story. Daisey himself gave a much more thorough, less defensive apology this week, and Gawker’s Adrian Chen said he wished Daisey would have been so contrite in the first place.

In Current, Alicia Shepard examined the story from the perspective of Marketplace, the public radio program that exposed Daisey’s falsehoods. In a long, thoughtful post, Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center compared Daisey’s story to the Kony 2012 viral video, using them to pose some good questions about the space between journalism and advocacy.

Reading roundup: A few other interesting pieces that surfaced this week:

— A couple of pieces succinctly laying out some of the growing challenges for those trying to control online content and discourse: First, a piece in The Guardian by Michael Wolff on the trouble that the rise of mobile media poses for news business models, and second, a post by JP Rangaswami positing Africa as the next site of resistance against online media control.

— In a similar vein, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wrote about the ways in which the giants of tech are all moving in on the same territory of user data and control, arguing that the real challenge is getting users to care about whether we end up with an open or closed web.

— NYU j-prof Jay Rosen wrote an insightful piece on how journalists claim the authority to be listened to by the public: “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”

— Finally, at Poynter, Matt Thompson put together an interesting typology of journalists: Storyteller, newshound, systems analyst, and provocateur. He’s got some great initial tips on how to work with each type, and play to each one’s strengths within a newsroom environment.

May 05 2011


Social Innovation Camp 2011 in Sarajevo

Social Innovation Camp brings together ideas, people, and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems — from hacking together software to working out how you'd sustain an idea — all in just 48 hours.

Do you have an idea you want to work on? Or maybe a particular technical solution that could be used for good? Social Innovation Camp Internews in Sarajevo is looking for inspiring ideas and committed people. The call for submissions will be closed Wednesday, May 25, 2011.

This year’s event will be held in Sarejevo on July 9-10, 2011 and organized by Internews and Transitions (TOL). The focus of Social Innovation Camp Internews is to jumpstart a “digital activist” movement across Central and Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia that uses information and communication technologies for positive social change.

Anyone from across the world — including people who work for NGOs or the media; who are public employees, web developers, business or marketing types who are enthusiastic about a social cause — is invited to attend the event as experts, volunteers, and developers. Travel grants are available for the priority countries Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

To apply for participation fill out this form.

Read more about the Social Innovation Camp Internews in Sarajevo: http://www.sicamp-internews.org

August 25 2010


Global Digital Activism: This data set has a waiting list!

(This post originally written by Mary Joyce for the Meta-Activism blog. You can see the original post here.)

The Global Digital Activism Data Set is the first attempt to quantitatively study digital activism as a global phenomenon.  It is an all-volunteer project to create an open case study database under a Creative Commons license that will be accessible to scholars and activists around the world.  It currently has 342 cases, with over 1,500 cases waiting to be entered… and that’s our challenge.

read more

June 10 2010


Interview: Mary Joyce, Editor of Digital Activism Decoded

Mary Joyce and Digital Activism DecodedI recently wrote this post about a new book called Digital Activism Decoded and followed up with editor Mary Joyce to learn more. Read the full interview below.

About the book:

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June 04 2010


Digital Activism Decoded: A Free Book for Online Activists

A new book has recently been published that I thought some of you might be interested in reading. It's all about how we can use technology for political activism. While many books have already been written about the tools and tactics available for activists online, this is the first book to attempt to map the field of digital activism in its entirety.

read more

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