Tips for online activism
Since the rise of online communities and social networks, much of the way we interact with each other take place on the Internet; it is a space for forming views, and expressing those views. Some choose to use it as a tool for spreading hate and racist opinions – maybe without even realising that things said in virtual space has an impact in the real world. Of course it does not have to be this way; we can employ it as a tool for spreading positive values such as respect, acceptance, intercultural understanding and diversity. With each minute of each day we spend online, we are building our virtual worlds, which can then enhance our real world experiences and interactions.
The Internet is a great place not only to find information, but to share information, exchange ideas, find like-minded people, build relationships with others, mobilise the public and communicate news and messages that find it difficult to get into the headlines of traditional media. In fact, are these not the main activities related to antiracist activism?
Activism is a truly social practice that can work perfectly with the Internet if considered, planned and executed properly. In this leaflet, we discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of digital activism; the do’s and don’ts and also some good practice related to online campaigning. It is not enough just to know how to use a website, an application or a platform; too many pages, accounts and online platforms have been started up and now lay by the wayside, inactive and irrelevant. So here it is, your campaigning starter kit for taking the European-wide Action Week Against Racism online, and joining up with thousands of activists who share your goal; bringing an end to racism and discrimination in Europe!
Planning your online campaign
The preparation stages of your campaign require a great deal of effort and consideration. As activists, we naturally want to get active as soon as possible, but the success of your online campaigning relies solely on the work we put in beforehand.
There are different approaches to antiracist campaigning and your online campaign will belong in one category or perhaps combine approaches. Whilst all tend to be educational, they can either take positive action through circulating important information and changing people’s attitudes, or be remedial; that is, combating existing attitudes, practices and actions. So, which approach suits you?
could be either take the form of awareness raising or affirmative campaigns; these are platforms for showcasing alternative voices, such as victims of discrimination in order to dispel myths, stereotypes and challenge prejudices.
take combative action against expressions of racism and xenophobia and can include monitoring and reporting activities.
Which approach you choose will depend on issues such as your target group (certain approaches and methods work better with different groups), what your skills, talents and strengths are, and it is also important to think about safety and security.
Think both about your long term and short term goals; what change does your campaign want to bring about? The narrower and more focused this is, the greater the chance of success. You can then break this down into a series of steps. These should be realistic and achievable, but also they help you track progress towards your ultimate goal – great for keeping you motivated when the going gets tough! Keep revisiting these goals; if they are not clearly defined, you risk putting lots of effort in for nothing. Each thing you do should represent a step towards (one of) your objectives, and each decision you make should address these.
What resources are available to you? This does not only mean financial! In fact the greatest thing about online campaigning is that it requires little more than a good Internet connection, your talents and your passion. “Resources” are more about “who”; who are your team members and with whom can you build a strong coalition? Perhaps there are other NGOs and groups working on similar activities; duplicating each other’s work is inefficient, but joining forces and collaborating can make your efforts so much stronger.
Consider the campaign space
There are two forms of campaigning using the Internet; use of online space to publicise your offline activities and events, or a campaign designed specifically for online space (using badges, avatars and “twibbons” to show support to a cause, online flash mobs, online gatherings through a platform such as Shaker). A mix of on- and offline is most common with each supporting and strengthening the other.
- Think about your objectives
What is the aim of your campaign? Campaigns can work on three levels;
- To inform of a problem (e.g. level of racist attacks in your area, conditions of local Roma settlement)
- To change perceptions and raise awareness (e.g. deconstruct stereotypes about Muslims, Roma, LGBT)
- To motivate for action: positive action (e.g. post an antiracist message on your Facebook profile) and obstructive action (e.g. block an extreme-right march).
- Who is your target group?
Define people you want to reach: young people, activists, non-activists, retired people, football fans, scholars, etc. You should have a really clear idea of your target group as it influences the tools and methods you employ. Think back to your goals; whose involvement do you need to achieve them? Engaging with the right people, and knowing how and where to find them is key to the success of your online campaign. Firstly, you want to build support for your goal so you want to engage your community, fellow activists and different groups in civil society, and maybe the media, but you might also want your message to reach some specific people; decision-makers in your local community for example. Remember that youth campaigns should have a fun image and style, be interactive and use informal language.
- Choose your social media platform
To help you to decide which one suits your campaign the best, here are the main features of the most popular social networks.
- Facebook, Google+, VKontakte: These allow you to combine content, with no restrictions on size of your post, have the largest audience globally, offer multiple ways to interact with content, lets you create more focused groups, and the Facebook application “Causes” is a good tool for NGOs. However these social networks are not designed for activism, and too many features and a changing interface can create “Confusers” (confused users).
- Livejournal, WordPress, Tumblr: These blog sites are suitable for longer texts, allowing you to explore issues in more depth, and create communities based on interests and issues.
- Twitter: Perfect for short messages, you can aggregate content (collect together content from different sites and network) with lists and #, very quick and immediate communication, allows you to build your own network through followers and retweeting, facilitates more focused action, you can refer and link to other content (photos, twitpics, tweetdeck), great for reporting live on the spot.
- Instagram, Youtube, Socialcam: These image-sharing sites are characterized by attractive visual content, but with limited functionality (only one type of content, with few ways to interact). It is possible to aggregate content by different users.
- Consider your content
- Aggregate content by embedding and using the # to bring together independent efforts and those across different platforms – cooperation is always most effective!
- Condense the form: keep it short and simple, do not overload with facts, limit to one clear message per post.
- Define the mood: it should always be motivating, encouraging participation and interaction, but content could either be funny and positive OR shocking and provocative. While your campaign will surely have an antiracist message, it is important that you are not only against something, but stand for something too.
- Personalise: create a relationship between author and audience by using “we” to keep the campaign inclusive, speak to the individual user, use personal stories, create your own unique voice that stands out above the rest. Remember you are competing for your audience’s attention!
- Involve your audience: encourage them to share their own content and even create content together (e.g. through posting their own photos bearing the same message), ask them questions, create surveys to encourage reflection.
- Make it attractive: post a combination of content types; visual content (e.g. photos and videos) catches attention more easily, then follow this with information.
- Sustain your audience’s attention: post a steady flow of content, build your identity gradually but regularly.
- Keep it open: Branding the campaign limits ownership and creates exclusion among your audience. Instead, provide links to other resources. Do not aim to create exclusive content, but collect content from a variety of sources such as NGOs, newspapers, research institutes and local community groups.
- Determine the geographic focus of your campaigns, then use the language of your main target group, but add a translation application e.g. “Bing” to include others. If the intention is for the campaign to travel across borders, consider making it multilingual.
- Management and administration
To make sure your page can both act and react quickly, it is best for a small team of people to look after it. Here are some guidelines and features to consider as a group.
- Post information daily, 10:00, 15:00 and 19:00 are good times as this is when people are online most.
- Include pictures (which are shared more) and make sure sharing pictures, videos and information is a quick and easy process. You should prioritise content that catches on and has the potential to go viral. Aim to have your activity spread like a fire! Remember to distinguish between your campaign and personal online activity.
- Connect different platforms (Twitter, Facebook, NGO website, etc) and use different types of communicators.
- Create a team of moderators and set some rules: properly divide responsibilities and agree on your policy for users (e.g. do you ban users? how will you take action against negative posts?).
- Your Facebook page should have a good title; it should not necessarily be the name of your NGO as this may not attract people who are not aware of you. Communicate the goal of your campaign instead.
- For larger campaigns, schedule a pre-launch trial period with approximately 100 members, ask for feedback and implement improvements.
- Personalise your page by adding your name in the end of your administrator posts (even if the name is fake to maintain privacy) – it starts a conversation.
- Building an online presence takes time – be patient! You need to put in a lot of groundwork to build your identity, so schedule consistent but gradual online activity.
- Show your antiracist commitment: long term change requires long term action. Plan how you can continue your activity and keep hold of your audience after the European-Wide Action Week is over.
Maintaining your safety & privacy when campaigning online
Make a clear distinction between your private life (and its presence online) and your campaign activities; leave no personal traces behind!
- Create a separate account and aliases for engaging on sensitive issues like racism and hate. Another benefit of an alias is that nobody can tell how many people are behind it.
- If creating events on Facebook, to keep others protected too, hide the list of participants and do not publish the location. Tell journalists and photographers they must register for the event beforehand; this gives you time to check their background and reliability.
- Keep the information and people connected to your activity safe. This should be a primary concern which all team members understand and agree. Just one wrong email sent is enough to compromise it.