The New Tactics Featured Dialogue “Information Activism: Turning Information into Action,” tackled issues of what constitutes ‘information activism,’ where do we see examples of it being used by human rights practitioners, and how can groups successfully incorporate information activism into their own advocacy?
Definitions of information activism were first discussed, starting with a brilliant example of an Indonesian activist who turns woks into wireless devices to extend information throughout society. A striking trend, from the beginning, was the focus on digital information activism, even leading to a discussion on what the difference is between digital activism and information activism. Along with the importance of digital information came the rising problems of censorship, igniting what one discussant termed an information race. Concerns towards the safety and security of activists using digital tools were also raised, along with ways of remaining secure. Finally, a participant from Tactical Tech proposed a neutral definition of information activism, which was silently agreed on, as “the strategic and deliberate use of information within a campaign,” and includes being savvy and engaging with the audience.
After establishing a framework of what informational activism consists of, the dialogue focused on providing examples of info activism to help further conceptualize it. This brainstorm resulted in the following topics:
- Maps (Appalachian Mountaintop Removal, Snow’s charting of Cholera, an in-class mapping of violence, sexual assaults, and alcohol use, Unsung Peace Hero’s use of the Ushaihidi program in Kenya, and tactical mapping at New Tactics)
- Cell Phones & SMS (following the Iranian elections violence, Kenyan elections, East Timor, FrontlineSMS program, Egyptian torture, and Cambodian police violence)
- Internet and Cell Phone Games (A Force More Powerful, Egyptian torture, HIV/AIDS awareness in India, and more)
- Humor (1,2)
The focus on mapping and cell phones brought another aspect into the dialogue concerning the need to reflect upon pre-digital examples of information activism. Coming from this dialogue was the conclusion that new technologies make information activism easier, broader, and quicker, but is not a solve-all solution. While the digital age has brought new tools, the same argumentation, data collection, and engagement that happened in the pre-digital age must be incorporated into activism for the efforts to be successful.
After looking at examples of information activism, the dialogue turned briefly to discussing how organizations can begin to incorporate information activism into their own advocacy. The main theme of this portion of the dialogue was being well-informed. Multiple discussants mentioned the importance of knowing your target, understanding the dynamics of your tactics, having a strategy that accounts for contingencies, and preparing for turning set-backs into potential advantages. A specific problem frequently encountered by human rights advocates is detention, which has been quickly turned into a new protest focus for advocates in Serbia, as one discussant pointed out. This kind of preparation and forethought was the most pressing advice given to organizations interested in incorporating information activism into their own actions.
Finally, the last part of the dialogue consisted of resource sharing, a necessity for information activism itself. Numerous resources were shared, and the following is a list of some of the most comprehensive sources shared, sorted by topic:
- Security Issues from DigiActive, Frontline Defenders, and CommonCraft
- Video Advocacy resources from Witness and New Tactics
- Concerts and local music event resources in Africa and major U.S. cities
- Twitter resources from TortureinEgypt.net and DigiActive
- Plethora of information from Tactical Tech
After sharing these resources of information activism knowledge, a discussant ended the dialogue with an important, and reiterated, point, that 'simple is often better' in advocacy. We should be adept at using new digital and technical tools for our activism, but we must always remain aware of the goal, and be sure that our desire to embrace technology does not interfere with our progress. Overall, a week of discussing information activism proved beneficial in many ways, and participants are encouraged to continue the dialogue and exchange of information regarding their experiences in activism.