Incorporating Social Media into Your Human Rights Campaigning

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, May 13, 2013 to Friday, May 17, 2013
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining the engine room and the New Tactics online community for an online conversation on Incorporating Social Media into Your Human Rights Campaigning from May 13 to 17, 2013. Social media is being used by human rights organizations around the world.  But how do organizations use these tools strategically and creatively to reach their goals?

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), one of the conversation leaders for this event, uses social media for online mobilizing and urgent human rights emergencies. For example, AIUSA used Twitter (and Storify) to successfully prompt a statement from the United States State Department on imprisoned activists in Bahrain - and to report back to activists in real-time. This is one of many examples of the strategic use of social media by human rights groups.

In this online conversation, we explored:

  • How to define your social media goals and targets;
  • Strategizing about how to reach your stakeholders with social media;  
  • Making decisions about the resources you should devote to building and maintaining a social media presence;
  • How to use social media without putting your staff and your constituents at risk;

This online conversation was an opportunity to exchange experiences, lessons-learned and best practices among practitioners using social media strategically in human rights work.

Summary of Conversation

Tactic examples shared in the conversation:

Building a social media plan: walking through how to build a sound social media strategy

Participants shared resources, strategies, successes, and challenges that they have had when developing social media plans. For example, a  ladder of engagement is a highly effective way of growing a campaign by starting with small involvement and then increasing the intensity of involvement.

One participant mentioned the importance of utilizing various benchmarks to determine success. Success can come in many different forms, and each action, tactic, and campaign should have specific, individual benchmarks. Some examples include the Bahrain Twitter Action, where Amnesty International USA knew that their numbers would be low, so they looked for response from their target instead of high participation numbers, which was a main success for them. Another example of a specific success indicator is participation by key organizations and experts, which was used for a new website launched on international justice by Amnesty International USA. A key benchmark was to make sure new resources were being used by organizations and individuals in the field.

One participant commented that it’s important to work together with other groups that are in touch with international or regional Human Rights bodies, and then build your networks from there.

Small NGOs were encouraged to develop their social media strategy from beginning to end, just the way a larger organization would do. It is important for small NGOs to know who is already working on issues. Also, it’s important to get involved in the Twitter community, to follow important people and make exchanges with them early. When using Twitter, it is also important to have actions tied to important days, it makes it more effective for other people to follow you. Finally, having a Facebook page, especially with photos and the use of videos is important.

Another participant gave tips on keeping your audience engaged and interested. They recommended to find your audience through basic audience research and stay in touch with them. Also, you can provide updates, reward your audience in unique ways (a reward that is directly related to the issue or work), or give unique opportunities for your audience to influence your work.

Mitigating risk: determining your threat model and take healthy precautions when using social media in your work

A key part of using social media strategically, is using it safely. Participants in this conversation discussed methods for determining your risk and steps to take to mitigate that risk.

The Women’s Peacemakers Program recommends to not publish pictures, quotes or names without the full approval of the participants. While this may appear challenging and require additional time and resources, this best practice will reflect well on your organization and will encourage your participants to be aware of their social media uses.

One participant discussed creating safe event spaces, specifically utilizing the Chatham House Rule. This rule encourages organizations to consider how patients feel, start a conversation about the security and privacy implications of documentation, and encourages participants to write NO PHOTO on their name tags if they do not want to be photographed. Additionally, apps such as ObscuraCam can be used to blur faces in a photograph before the picture is posted online.

Another participant discussed the paradigm of human rights work. What happens when organizations want and need compelling visuals of their work and impact, and, at the same time, respect the privacy and security of the people they work with? New Tactics held a past conversation specifically about this topic: Staying Safe: Security Resources for Human Rights Defenders. Also, Tactical Technology has created a few online resources to help you understand and mitigate risk while using social media, these include Trace My Shadow and Me and My Shadow.

Additional ideas to mitigate risk on social media include, turning off geolocation, review what’s publically visible on your profiles, do not trust really sensitive information on social networks, and setting up anonymous accounts. These anonymous accounts should not be affiliated with an identifiable email address. It was recommended that individuals scrub metadata on photos and files, consider how a photo’s or video’s content count can be used to identify you, double check for https:// over http:// on social networking sites, and use a VPN on your phone and computer. Also, remember that everything that is sent unencrypted is like a postcard that any intermediary (network administrators, ISPs, or government) can read.

Complementing offline efforts with online tactics

Participants shared and discussed successful online/offline intersections of campaigning. They agreed that it’s important that you design a campaign with both online and offline components. Successful campaigns will share goals and objectives, communicate needs and expectations, and have regular meetings between the online and offline efforts.

Participants spoke about the importance of combining online and offline methods. One example of this was the Iran campaign example. This campaign asked supporters to dress up in traditional women’s clothing to show support for their movement. Here supporters are asked to take action offline and then engage or share online with a broader community. Another participant discussed linking social media to traditional media. The participant mentioned the importance of getting the attention of traditional media when the campaign first starts and then using social media to spread the information.

One successful campaign, Organizing Venezuela’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) started offline first and then decided to make use of various online tools to have maximum reach. They created blog, twitter, facebook accounts, and worked with partner organizations. Another participant also commented that they generally start with offline engagements with partners and then add social media. It was important to get a group of organizations together that all share a point of view in terms of context and particularly the situation that is taking place. This can be done through a strategy called referral marketing. Next, the partners should set up a course of action and establish priorities.

Finally, another participant mentioned four basic components for how to integrate online and offline activities: (1) audience, (2) horizontal engagement; (3) actions, and (4) completing the circle. Examples include search engine optimization (to learn about and find your target audience); and media attention, by raising awareness through online presence and then driving people to take action offline.

Resources on social media, shared by participants:

Conversation Leaders

AlixTrot's picture
the engine room
ckoettl's picture
Christoph Koettl
Amnesty International USA
Susannah Vila's picture
Susannah Vila
the engine room
andresazp's picture
Andres Azpurua
Venezuela Inteligente
fjreyna's picture
Feliciano J Reyna
CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
rosebell's picture
Rosebell Kagumire