The Role of Technology in Human Rights Advocacy Campaigns

New Tactics in Human Rights seeks to build a human rights advocacy repository through the development and sharing of online resources. One way in which New Tactics does this is through sharing tactical case studies of human rights activism worldwide.

A tactic is an action one can take to move them toward their goal. Most organizations seeking to advance human rights can only accommodate one or two primary tactics within their institutional frameworks, due to the time they take to learn, the investment in staffing, the measurement of performance and effectiveness, and the difficulties of raising funds. This pattern is reinforced by the human tendency to “do what we know how to do.” However, there are many tactics that have been used successfully by human rights advocates around the world, and more are developed every day. New Tactics’ database of tactics helps activists to explore a variety of tactics and choose new ways to approach the issue that their opponents won’t expect.

The tactics shown below highlight the use of technology as a core piece of the tactical action. The tactics are divided into three areas: social media, mobile phones, and other. If you are looking for ideas and inspiration on how you can achieve your human rights goals through the use of technology, then you are in the right place.

1. Tactics Utilizing Social Media 

Using Twitter to Petition Changing Rape Laws in Morocco

In March 2012, sixteen year old Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. According to article 475 of Moroccan criminal law, charges of sexual assault are dropped when the rapist accepts marrying his victim.

Amina Filali’s suicide shook human rights groups, women’s rights activists and the Moroccan feminist movement. Petitions under the name of “We Are All Amina Filali” started as part of a sixteen day campaign to fight against violence towards women. The campaign’s goal was to raise awareness of Amina’s tragedy and to put that law under the spotlight. Through petitions and hashtags on twitter under the hashtag of #AminaFilali #RIPAmina, Amina’s case was heard.

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Online Blackout to Protest Anti-Freedom of Speech Laws Against Press on the Internet

The “Free Net” campaign joined forces with Jordanian online newspapers in announcing the 28th of August, 2012to be internet blackout day. Online websites along with online news sites decided to turn their pages black in protest of the legal restrictions regarding press freedom included in a bill on press and publication. One of the bill’s articles gives the absolute authority to the general manager of the department of print and publication to block online websites that are published from abroad in case they don’t meet the same restrictions as the local websites.

The Free Net campaign reached out to online news websites asking them to turn their pages black and to publish a public announcement to the audience “You May not Access the Content of this Webpage if Print and Publication Laws are Approved”. They also asked social media activists to use #BlackoutJO and #FreeNetJO to tweet their voices to raise awareness of such a bill. Black pages took websites by storm, which meant thousands of people experienced how it could be in the case that the bill was approved.

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Using Online Petitions to Gain International Leverage against an Oppressive Government

The Coalition Youth of 14 Feb Revolution used an online petition campaign to protest Bahrain as the host for the Formula One Race. The activists were able to mobilize almost 500,000 people worldwide to sign the petition, eventually leading to the cancellation of the race in Bahrain in 2011. The impetus for the campaign was the Bahraini government’s savage suppression of peaceful protestors earlier that year.

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Using Flickr as a Participatory Tool to Expose Perpetrators of Human Rights Violations

Egyptian bloggers started Piggipedia, a Flickr “group pool” where activists could post pictures to identify and expose security officials suspected of committing crimes against civilians.

Excessive use of force and torturing of civilians were common practices of the Egyptian security forces before the 2011 revolution. There are numerous examples of police brutally dismantling protests and conducting mass arrests of protesters without accountability. In 2008, Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy started Piggipedia. The Flickr site was part of a decade-long online campaign against torture that started with a blog, for a time the only credible source of torture incidents in Egypt.

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Encouraging the Sharing of Victims’ Testimonies on Facebook to Create Public Awareness and Encourage Positive Action

I Saw a Harasser is a “pressure group that works on monitoring and documenting sexual harassment crimes against women”. It is an umbrella to most of the popular anti-sexual harassment initiatives in Egypt which were founded amid the horrifying proliferation of the phenomenon in the streets of Egypt.

The initiative’s goal is to encourage women to take action and speak up by publishing stories of females who managed to report sexual harassment incidents or at least took instant action after the incident happened. Pictures and stories sometimes get thousands of shares on Facebook depending on how credible and well documented they are.

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Using Social Media to Collectively Document Abuses and Honor Victims and Activists

Anonymous artists created mock postage stamps honoring people and places that had a profound effect on the Syrian Revolution "Stamps of the Syrian Revolution" was a Facebook page featuring artistically designed mock postage stamps. The stamps featured photos of events from the headlines or influential people in the uprising. The subjects of the stamps could be chosen by the artists, but sometimes they were suggested by fans of the Facebook page themselves. Eventually the page had over 400 mock stamps, offering a major visual archive and timeline documenting the unfolding of the Syrian Revolution and paying tribute to its supporters.

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2. Tactics Utilizing Mobile Phones

Using Mobile Phone Technology to End Domestic Violence

Global estimates published by World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 1 in 3 women worldwide (35%) have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Some national studies have reported rates of 70% or more. Although incidence of domestic violence varies from place to place, underreporting is a common concern across the globe. Difficulty in tracking instances of violence and accessing safe means to report are problems faced by far too many victims of domestic violence. To encourage reporting and ensure prosecution of abusers, app developers have taken on the charge to connect victims with the resources they need through easy-to-use channels. Mobile phone technology has served as a new frontier in tackling the worldwide epidemic of domestic violence. Three pioneering apps worth keeping on your radar are VictimsVoice (USA), GjejZâ (“Find your Voice,” Albania), and EasyRescue (Turkey).

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Using SMS and Mapping Technology to Create Neighborhood Safe Zones Free of Sexual Harassment

In Cairo, Harassmap uses SMS and mapping technology to identify areas where sexual harassment is likely to occur and partners with local shop owners to create “safe zones” in those areas. Harassmap allows women harassed in Cairo to take action by reporting their experience. A woman can send a text message to Harassmap with her location and the type of harassment to which she was subjected. She can also log on to the project’s website,, and report the incident. Harassmap volunteers then compile the reports on an interactive online map that shows the number of incidents reported in each specific area.

Harassmap identifies the neighborhoods with the highest number of incidents reported and reaches out to people in those communities. They have chosen to focus on local shop owners because their businesses are negatively impacted by high level of harassment. Harassmap volunteers visit shop owners and talk with them about sexual harassment issues and how intervention in such incidents would help bring more people into their shops. Interested shop owners agree to display a poster that says “Catch a Harasser: Safe Zone” and intervene when they witness an incident of sexual harassment.

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Community Election Monitoring via SMS to Prevent Violence

The Peaceful Elections Initiative (INAMA) organizes citizen reporters who use text messaging to monitor local tensions and violent outbreaks leading up to elections and to prevent dishonesty during elections.

INAMA’s Early Response Network was set up in May 2014. Its goal is to train 700 citizen reporters to monitor election-related tensions around the country. INAMA plans to develop a larger team closer to the elections. INAMA’s citizen reporters are trained to identify incidents of both violence (intimidation, confrontations between youth wings of political parties, destruction of property, as well as cases of assassination) and peace initiatives (civic education, peace messages broadcasted through the media, peaceful conflict resolution and peaceful cohesion). Using text messaging, they transmit reports of these events to INAMA.

INAMA uses the information from the citizen-reporters to create a database of events, coded by incident type (intimidation, insecurity, peace initiatives, registration irregularities, etc.), on its website. Visitors to the website can view events that have happened and sign up for alerts when an event is reported within 20 kilometers of their location. All reports are verified before they are posted to the website to ensure trustworthiness. The online database currently includes over 400 events, including instances of intimidation, insecurity, registration irregularities, and peace initiatives.

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3. Tactics Utilizing Other Forms of Technology

The Redirect Method: Disrupting Extremist Recruitment Online

A leading group of private industry developers cultivated a plan to create and disseminate targeted anti-extremist online content to disrupt online terrorist recruitment efforts. Since the pilot program’s initial success in targeting ISIS recruits, this method has been further utilized to counter other extremist groups.

The Redirect Method strategically placed advertisements next to results from 1,500 Arabic and 1,000 English keyword and phrase searches that potential ISIS recruits commonly use.

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Using Videos to Raise Awareness of Laws Protecting Against Domestic Violence

Enough Violence and Exploitation is a Lebanese organization that fights all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse against women and children. Enough Violence and Exploitation produced help videos about a fictional character named Zalfa. Zalfa is a representation of a Lebanese woman who is a victim of abuse, sexism, violence and injustice. Zalfa asks common questions that could be asked by abused women regarding legislation protecting women and families against domestic violence. The videos answer all questions simply, so women are aware of their rights and their legal options, have knowledge of the protections provided by the law. The videos are accessible on their YouTube channel and on some Lebanese TV networks as well.

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New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.