How To Use Social Media In Human Rights Campaigning

Social media and digital technologies are increasingly changing the way we document and report on human rights abuses (Photo Credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/GettyImages).

Social media and digital technologies are increasingly changing the way we document and report on human rights abuses (Photo Credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/GettyImages).

I have previously discussed the many opportunities and pitfalls of social media for human rights research and advocacy, or if social media content could potentially document war crimes in Syria. This week I was invited to participate in a fascinating online discussion on how to incorporate social media into human rights campaigning. The conversation is organized by New Tactics for Human Rights and The Engine Room and is still open until the end of the week. We are off to a great start with around 35 comments, and visitors to the website this week came from more than 100 countries! If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to share your experience and thoughts.

The conversation provides several examples of how social media has been used as a tactic by various human rights organizations and other NGOs. Examples from Amnesty International include our Bahrain Twitter action or Eyes on Syria campaign and use of a YouTube playlist in our campaign to establish a Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea. Other case studies come from Greenpeace and El Salvador, among others. A current case study – which is still unfolding – is the #SaveBeatriz campaign.

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Eyes on El Salvador: will officials act to #SaveBeatriz?

There has been an overwhelming amount of global support over the past few weeks for Beatriz and those in El Salvador working tirelessly on her behalf to save her life. Much of this support has emerged online via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other outlets. Because of these digital tools, countless people are closely following events unfold in El Salvador and calling on the authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations by immediately granting Beatriz authorization for an abortion.

Will Salvadoran authorities listen to Beatriz’s plea and take action to save her life in accordance with her wishes and at the advice of the medical professionals caring for her?

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#Onlineactivism: More Than Tweets the Eye

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Natalie Butz, Communications Assistant at Amnesty International USA

It’s the phenomenon that’s spawned a thousand names and of course, its own hashtag. And ever since Malcolm Gladwell argued that “social media can’t provide what social change has always needed,” online activism has been critiqued as replacing on-the-ground grassroots organizing while offering only a fraction of the impact.

I thought about that argument last week as I stood with over 60 activists shouting chants and hoisting signs during Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)’s annual Get on the Bus event. Started in 1996 by a local AIUSA chapter in Somerville, Massachusetts, Get on the Bus is an annual day of human rights education and on-the-ground activism. The event’s name stems from its history; participants gather together on buses to rally at strategic locations on behalf of those whom governments would silence. Since its inception, Get on the Bus has spread to Amnesty International groups across the country, including New York City and Washington, D.C.

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“Never Accepting Defeat:” Amnesty’s Death Penalty Repeal Campaign in Maryland

New technologies and social media helped Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs spread their message and mobilize activists (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media helped Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs spread their message and mobilize activists (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs – current Maryland State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators (SDPACs)

This blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in Maryland’s historic death penalty repeal campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.

In 2010 and 2011, we were fortunate to land in Maryland’s established and well-organized death penalty repeal coalition, continuing the work that countless others began decades earlier.

When we took on the shared role of State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators for Amnesty International, we knew that repeal was a realistic goal in the relative short term, and that we had skills and experience to give to this campaign.

It was immensely rewarding to see the system work. Each year, we would employ the same basic strategy: in the spring and summer, we would lay the groundwork for the legislative session. We attended fairs and concerts, knocked on doors, collected signatures, and phone-banked. We handed out flyers, spoke to student groups, wrote newsletters, and marched in rallies. We drove hundreds of miles to reach out to a diverse constituency.

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What Happens When You Cry Wolf to the Kenyan Crowd

One of the recurrent challenges associated with utilizing social media outlets to report and monitor a situation during a period of time when ground events may or may not be rapidly developing (such as in Kenya): the situation is often times much more complex than 140 characters can convey, and the incorrect use of just a few words, could easily become an overflow of ingredients to an already bubbling human rights situation (Photo Credit: Till Muellenmeister/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the recurrent challenges associated with utilizing social media outlets to report and monitor a situation during a period of time when ground events may or may not be rapidly developing (such as in Kenya): the situation is often times much more complex than 140 characters can convey, and the incorrect use of just a few words, could easily become an overflow of ingredients to an already bubbling human rights situation (Photo Credit: Till Muellenmeister/AFP/Getty Images)

Like many others, I have been closely watching the Kenyan elections. In fact, these elections may be the most “watched” elections ever. I am not necessarily talking about observers on the ground. Digital tools, including social media outlets, have greatly enhanced remote monitoring capability, and have emerged as a major component in the Kenyan elections.

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Twitter to the Rescue? How Social Media is Transforming Human Rights Monitoring

Syrian youths, inside a vehicle, film a protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with their phones in the northern city of Aleppo.

Syrian youths, inside a vehicle, film a protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with their phones in the northern city of Aleppo on October 12, 2012. (Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

Social media is increasingly helpful to not only monitor emerging human rights emergencies, but also to uncover incorrect information. A recent example is when Twitter helped me to spot incorrect contextual information on a newly uploaded execution video from Syria. This is just one instance in which crowdsourced expertise from social media can open up new opportunities for human rights organizations. Having that said, the challenges and pitfalls are numerous. I thought about these issues a lot while preparing for a Truthloader debate last week on how citizen journalism is changing the world. Current case in point is the upcoming elections in Kenya, which are probably the best (citizen) monitored elections in history.

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Don't Fear the Tweets, Fear the Tweeters

twitter activist protesterLast week, UN Secretary General Ban delivered the keynote address at the Global Colloquium of University Presidents, in which he made the pointed remark:

“Some dictators in our world are more afraid of tweets than they are of opposing armies.”

Being a mere 86 characters, that quote made its way through the Twitterverse in fairly short order, with some glib derision in response.

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Technology and Women: #RapeinSyria and "Girls Around Me"

Syrian Women Protest

Syrian women demonstrate against President Bashar al-Assad's regime KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

First, the welcome news: a new tool was launched last week by the Women’s Media Center’s project, Women Under Siege, to track sexual violence committed against women in Syria. Using Ushahidi technology, this project uses crowdsourcing to collect and map evidence of sexual violence, in real time or as close to real time as the “crowd” would like. Survivors, witnesses, and first-responders can submit reports via email, Twitter (using #RapeinSyria) or directly via the site.

Collecting this type of data is vital toward ensuring accountability for human rights crimes related to sexual violence, especially in conflict settings where human rights monitors may be unable to gain access. By highlighting the issue to the public and policy-makers, by empowering women and girls with a tool to share their stories, and by compiling reports of crimes related to sexual violence which are incredibly under-reported as it is, new technological tools allow us to see through the fog of war and send a strong message to perpetrators of violence—your crimes will not go unnoticed. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

For So Many Reasons, Eyes on Russia

Russia Protest

An opposition activist holds a one man protest in front of the Russian Central Election Commission headquarters in Moscow, on March 1, 2012. The sign reads: "stop the dictatorship!" (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian Federation has had an unenviable place in the news of late. With the outrage over the government’s disastrous and unconscionable opposition to meaningful UN Security Council action on Syria, to Amnesty’s recent findings that Russian weapons continue to supply the machine of misery unleashed on the people of Darfur and Sudan, it would be easy to be blinded to the risks to rights protection in Sunday’s Presidential election.

Last Saturday, thousands rallied in St. Petersburg in opposition to Vladimir Putin’s decision to run for a third presidential term, chanting “Russia without Putin.” On Sunday, over 30,000 people organized together to create a human chain spanning 15.6 kilometers in length throughout Moscow in solidarity over growing discontent over the election.

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