Information Activism: Turning Information into Action

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Information Activism: Turning Information into Action

Thank you for joining Tactical Tech and the New Tactics online community for an online dialogue from July 8 - 14 on Information Activism: Turning Information into Action. This online dialogue is a space for practitioners to share the innovative ways in which they have turned information into action with their advocacy campaigns. Topics discussed included: collecting data, creative ways of visualizing data, digital ways of sharing this information, and the security risks one should evaluate before implementing these activities. This dialogue is a collection of tools and tactics that can help you move your information into action!

Featured Resource Practitioners

Our featured resource practitioners, leading this dialogue, include (click here for more biographical information):

  • Tanya Notley, Bobby Soriano and others from Tactical Tech
  • Fredrick Noronha, writer, journalist, blogger and photographer, India
  • Noha Atef, editor of, Egypt
  • WITNESS team: Chris Michael, Priscila Neri, and others
  • Melissa Gira Grant, writer and sex-worker activist, USA
  • Patrick Meier, scholar, activist and writer for DigiActive, USA
  • Sally-Jean Shackleton and Lebogang Marishane of Women'sNet, South Africa
  • Dr. Dan McQuillan, blogs about open source activism and social innovation at

Summary of the Dialogue

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:

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. For more detailed suggests see Philippe Duhamel’s interTactica blog.

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:

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. 

---What is 'Info-Activism'?

How do you define:

  • Information Activism
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Tools
Hard to define....

Infoactivism can mean so many different things toso many different
people. Here's a friend from Indonesia, with an unusual approach:

Dr  Onno Widodo Purbo, who calls himself "an independent ICT writer who dreams to see a knowledge-based society in Indonesia."

In short, what he was doing was to take a wok -- the versatile
round-bottomed cooking vessel originating in China -- added on a wifi
pen drive, and manage to create rough-and-ready and cheap tool to
extend the wireless capacity of your computer. In this way, one could
link up dozens of others while sharing a single fat pipe to the Net.

makes Net access a whole new ball game, specially in resource-poor,
talent-rich countries where most can't afford the luxury of the

Information has power in itself: to transform, to improve lives, to
bring about equity and fairness... but, much also depends on how one
uses it. And that's a political issue...

FN *
M +91-9822122436 P +91-832-2409490

One definition of Info-Activism

Thanks for sharing that great example of broadening a community's access to information by using simple resources - and using them creatively!  Now that access to the internet is possible - I wonder what they will do with it.

Making information available and accessible is an important part of Info-Activism, and I'm glad that you have introduced this topic, Fredrick.  If Info-Activism is defined as the following (I received this definition from Tanya of Tactical Tech a little while ago):

Info-Activism is what happens when rights advocates turn information about their issue into action that will address it. Info-Activism involves the strategic use of tools and tactics for social change.

...I wonder what other ways communities have creatively set up methods of accessing information?  

I am also looking forward to reading examples of how practitioners have turned their information into action without the use of internet. 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

info-activism as a political issue and increasing restrictions

Thanks Fred,

I am glad for internet circumvention tools ( so I could watch this video you mentioned since YouTube is blocked here in Turkey where I am writing from! It was a really interesting story.

I have been thinking about your comment:

"Information has power in itself: to transform, to improve lives, to bring about equity and fairness... but, much also depends on how one uses it. And that's a political issue..."

Like Kristin says, at Tactical Tech we tend to think of info-activism as the process (strategy, tactics and tools) involved in turning information into action.

I think we would all agree that the way information is accessed, created and distributed has been changing rapidly in recent years. This is I think largely the result of new technologies such as the internet and mobiles phones and the increasing popularity of online services like Blogging platforms, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook which have created greater opportunities for dynamic information sharing, content collaboration and self-publishing. The potential for digital tools and services to contribute to human rights advocacy work has also increased considerably as new ICTs have become cheaper and more accessible to people living in marginalised communities and progressively more interlaced: mobile phones feed into websites, websites become interactive radio stations, and the offline and online world increasingly interconnect.

But just as emerging technologies bring new opportunities, they also present new challenges by introducing new methods for suppression, censorship and breaches of privacy. I would love to know people's thoughts on this. It seems as though censorship in the form of blocking popular online services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has been on the rise recently, at times most critical for info-activism work: for example when Twitter was blocked post-elections in Iran (a critical piece on ability of Twitter to help organise: and during the violent clashes in northwest China (

I don't know what effect this is having now or will continue to have in the future. But I guess it is making us all think about how to prepare better for this kind of state censorship, monitoring and control when we are using digital tools to advocate for human rights? It seems as though dgital tools that protect our privacy and allow us to circumvent restrictions are becoming just as important as the tools that allow us to actually do things like create media and mobilise people.

Any experiences or thoughts?




Tanya Notley
Tactical Tech

A wider audience learning about insurrectionary tactics

The people who prepare for these things in advance will always be a minority :) What was fascinating for me about #iranelection was seeing a much wider group of people suddenly having to consider issues like disinformation and information warefare. Hence the popularity of posts like cyberwar guide for beginners.

i agree with you that "digital tools that protect our privacy and allow us to circumvent
restrictions are becoming just as important as the tools that allow us
to actually do things like create media and mobilise people". I'd take it a step further and say that anyone who uses these tools for campaigning should also be active in protecting online civil liberties (see also eCampaigning for Internet Freedom)


Dr. Dan McQuillan, blogs about open source activism and social innovation at

Distributed networks, censorship, and Twitter

I wanted to speak back to this bit of your reply, Tanya:

...just as emerging technologies bring new opportunities, they also
present new challenges by introducing new methods for suppression,
censorship and breaches of privacy. I would love to know people's
thoughts on this. It seems as though censorship in the form of blocking
popular online services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has been on
the rise recently, at times most critical for info-activism work...

In the case of Twitter and YouTube, distributed networks have offered some workarounds for censorship. For example, the website could be shut down, but tweets (I am still not comfortable with that word!) could still get through via SMS, IM, and third-party desktop applications. Watching how a tool like Twitter is becoming even more divorced from its own website, how mobile are what make it so useful, and how difficult it is to shut down every avenue to access --- every port and proxy, all the cell networks -- gives me some optimism for creative ways we can work around forms of government/state censorship that rely on just cutting off access to a series of websites.

Adoption isn't as wide as it would need to be, but for example, if one can use a cell network to upload video online, or to send it from phone to phone using Bluetooth or similar, eventually a video could make it far enough out of the range of censorship to end up online.

So on the one hand, tools like Tor are important, but also working on building these networks where information can flow peer-to-peer directly in the case of censorship seems equally powerful.

As another point, that we don't know very well what we can expect from a service like YouTube or Facebook when it comes to them responding to requests to pull information down -- that concerns me very much, as well. Where is the transparency on the part of these commercial services? It seems to come down to a service-by-service process. I have heard that Wordpress, for example, is very thoughtful in how they evaluate requests to block their site and have pushed back when told to take down blogs. But so long as we have to rely on allies inside of these companies to do our work, I'm wary of advocating them to activists without a lot of caveats.

Melissa Gira Grant, writer and sex-worker activist, USA

Universal Declaration of Human Rights v. Terms of Service

We can safely say that we can't rely on these companies to stand firm for freedom of expression. A good example is the way  youtube suspended the account of Wael Abbas (publisher of the police torture videos).

The problem lies in the radical difference between the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the realities of the Terms of Service agreements we sign up to when using online services.  One idea i was proposing was a Freedom of Expression League Table for Web 2.0.

There is a positive side, which is the mobilizing effect that apparent censorship can have within these online spaces. Sometimes there's a community revolt!



Dr. Dan McQuillan, blogs about open source activism and social innovation at

Open video as a human right

Witness presented on this theme exactly -- where does the universal declaration of human rights extend to open platforms online -- at the Open Video Conference last month at New York University. Here's that presentation:

Melissa Gira Grant, writer and sex-worker activist, USA

Safety, security, ethics in online media...

Thanks Tanya, Melissa, and Dan for bringing up such a critical topic. 

As you both mention, the same way new technologies are increasingly used by human rights activists to get the word out, they are also used by repressive governments to track, suppress, and persecute activists.   In addition to that, there are also questions about safety, security, context, consent, ethics we ourselves must consider when reposting and sharing media online...  Here are a few cases we've come across in recent months:

1) SAFETY/SECURITY- Burma:  After the massive 2007 monk-led protests known as the Saffron Revolution, the military government in Burma systematically hunted down more than 1000 people who had filmed, distributed, or appeared in the footage of the protests.  (more on that in this post by my colleague Sam Gregory:  Burma: Shooting, owning, sharing, watching video, shouting with glee at a TV broadcast...can earn you years in jail

2) SAFETY/SECURITY- Tibet: Two Tibetan filmmakers were arrested and tortured after making a film inside Tibet called Leaving Fear Behind.  The people shown in the film, some of which asked to have their identities concealed and others which were adamant about showing their identities, were also at risk after the film started circulating online.  Here are some of the risks we considered when deciding whether or not to publish the video on the Hub: Leaving Fear Behind - The Risks We Considered

3) SAFETY/SECURITY: The flood of citizen video from Iran in recent weeks has sparked new concern about what will happen to the people whose faces are shown in the footage... According to the son of an Iranian opposition leader, hundreds of people were arrested and tortured after the protests that happened in Iran in 1999 - simply for appearing on video in the protests.. 

4) ETHICS/HUMAN RIGHTS VALUES: A recent video from the protests in Iran, which showed a young woman named Neda as she was shot and killed on camera, spread like wildfire on the internet but also presented interesting questions on the ethics of bearing witness and preserving Neda's human dignity... we wrote about that here:  Iran Protests: A Woman Dies on Camera - to post or not to post?

So while we want and need to spread the word about these abuses and atrocities, what human rights values and considerations should we think through before doing so?

Looking forward to other people's thoughts and experiences with this, it's always a tricky dilemma to navigate..


Priscila (WITNESS)

Digital Security: technologies and non-tech tactics

Hi All, I’ve already posted DigiActive’s quick guide on how to communicate securely in repressive regimes ( but want to emphasize the need to think about digital security in two ways: technologies and non-technology tactics. While the former is critical, I find that the latter is often ignored, which is in part why I wrote the quick guide. We revert to technological solutions quickly because they are often a quick fix, but this makes us less creative about offline tactics.

- Patrick Meier

Important to know the software/technologies of governments

Hi Tanya, thanks for your comments. It is indeed important to understand what tools and technologies repressive regimes have recourse to. As Sun Tzu says in Art of War:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a thousand battles without a single loss.

If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.

If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

In a way, we are in an information race of sorts. While repressive regimes seek to impose information blockades, digital activists seek ways around said blockades. There is thus a learning dynamic involved, and it is important that we learn as much about a regime’s increasing ability to monitor and censor. This often means knowing exactly which software/technologies they purchase from Western private sector companies such as Cisco, Siemens, Nokia, etc.

The Open Net Initiative is a good group to follow on Internet filtering abilities of many governments around the world:

And I recommend their book “Access Denied”:

- Patrick Meier

Info Activism

In the scholarly literature info activism is an element of action research (Lewin), and often erroneously referred to as participatory action research (PAR). I've also seen the the concept community or participatory monitoring used to describe the phenomenon.

In academia, we study info activism as a part of social movement theory, community studies, sociology of knowledge, resource mobilization, and so on. I don't feel any need to define info activism either as a scholar or citizen as I think it encompases a much broader complex system of action and motivation.

Back in the 1990s, Cornell Participatory Action Research Network
actually studied "info activism"  from a PAR and knowledge
perspective, This leads me to ask why info activism and not "knowledge activism"? Susan

Re: Info-Activism and Participatory Action Research

HI Susan

Thanks for this post. I would love to see specific titles of works on the concept of info-activism because I have never seen the term used before in academia. Can you suggest any?

I think that Participatory Action Research (PAR) could be info-activism but as someone who has used this methodology often I personally do not think it is just the same thing. There are many PAR projects I have worked on that I would not consider to be examples of  info-activism.

PAR by its very nature aims to turn information into action...but I believe info-activism has a much more concerted, strong rights focus. 

It is interesting to me to think about the link though, so thanks for this.



Dr. Tanya Notley

Skills Building Team Leader


Yes, PAR is also a tools of info- activism

I totally agreed with Dr. Tanya that PAR also strong tools
of info activism. Personally, I am in PAR projects in Bangladesh and I seem here peoples are very interested of the process. I asked them why are they happy to work with PAR group? They told me through the process they learn where is there rights, who are responsible to provide service to them, what's the way to clime their right, how to ask for safety net facility. So, I feeled now yes, PAR is also info activism and PAR animator is also a activist!

Yes, PAR is also a tool of info- activism

I totally agreed with Dr. Tanya that PRA also strong tools
of info activism. Personally, I am in PRA projects in Bangladesh and
I seem here peoples are very interested of the process. I asked them why are
they happy to work with PRA group? They told me through the process they learn
where is there rights, who are responsible to provide service to them, what's
the way to clime their right, how to ask for safety net facility. So, I feeled
now yes, PRA is also info activism and PRA animator is also a activist!


Participatory Resaerch & Action Network- PRAN, Bangladesh

Info Activism

I agree
that Information Activism is hard to define. We come to it from different
perspectives and with different practices. And we conceptualise it in different
ways too. I have been influenced by Alfred Kahn and his view of what
information could achieve in neighbourhood information centers – ideas from
back in the 1960s – and so I could make a case for information activism being
old intentions carried out in new ways. Kahn and his co-workers identified a
range of purposes that information had in the local community development
process: it could increase what people knew, it was the basis for advice in the
hands of experts, it referred people to others sources of information or
expertise, it was a prompt to action, it was the basis for advocacy, it could give
a broader perspective on issues and it could allow trends to emerge.
Community-based research could also be the basis for calling decision-makers
and governments at any level to account. When I first read Keck and Sikkink’s
Activists Beyond Borders, I related to their four types of politics,
information politics, symbolic politics, leverage politics and accountability
politics, as information activism, based as they are on the use of information to achieve positive
social change.

But is this
old wine in new bottles? I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t. It’s a new
practice, carried out by people who are working to the limits of their
imagination and the possibilities of the technology available to them. So it's soemthing different. Susan
says that she doesn’t feel the need to define Info Activism – and part of me
agrees with her – it is a practice, something which we do and which we
experience. But insofar as it is also something that we think about, it is
something we conceptualise, and so we need words to convey that


btw I agree
with Dan that the issues of suppression of information, persecution of those
perceived to disseminate unpopular ideas and censorship in general are not new,
but that new technologies and their impacts bring these issues to a much
broader range of people. And I guess that is one of the key characteristics of
Info Activism, that it is within the reach of a broad range of people.

Definitions: Info-Activism, Tools, Tactics

Alright, so what do we mean by 'Info-Activism,' anyway? Here are a few definitions from Tactical Tech to get us all on the same page for this dialogue.

Info-Activism is what happens when rights advocates turn information about their issue into action that will address it. Info-Activism involves the strategic use of tools and tactics for social change.
In Info-Activism

Tactics are the approaches that are used to strategically address a goal. Each tactic should target a specific and defined audience and it should be used to convey messages that will appeal to that audience's tastes, habits and interests. Tactics may include the use of humour to appeal to a young audience or the use of group mobilisation to bring about a collective action; it may involve visualising complex data to get a message across clearly or broadcasting personal stories to ensure these experiences are heard by those who have the power to change the situation.

Tools are a media vehicle – they are what you use to implement your tactics. Tools may include things like comics strips, mobile phone video or text messages, posters, a public sound installation, a video documentary, a group on a social network site.

Watch a short video made by Tactical Tech by going to 

Do you have a different understanding of these terms? Do you have more terms to define regarding this kind of activism? Please share these terms and definitions here!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Definitions: Strategy and Tactics

I think it is important to point out the definitions of, and relationship between strategy and tacitcs.

Here at New Tactics, we often say 'Strategy defines what is important to do, tactics embody how to do it.'   A strategy is the long-term plan, where as the tactics are the short-term activites and techniques that are used along the way to move you closer to your goal. Doug Johnson, the director of the Center for Victims of Torture, wrote in the introduction of the New Tactics Book:

The relationship between “the what” and “the how” is an important one
in understanding — and demystifying — the concepts of strategy and
tactics. Tactics — which may be activities, systems, techniques or even
institutions — are one of the key building blocks of strategy.

(For more information from New Tactics on strategy and tactics, visit our collection of resources on Tactics and Tactical Innovation.)

Though our strategies might be very different, and the issues and geographic regions varied - we still have so much to share with each other regarding the tactics being used. I hope that we can use this dialogue as a place to share these tactics, as well as the tools that can be used to implement these tactics.  

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Definition: Digital Activism

I want to offer another term and definition from '' that might be helpful to refer to during this dialogue: 

Digital activism: the methods by which citizens use digital tools to effect social and political change.

Pretty straight forward, right? So what do we mean by 'digital tools'? DigiActive has a list of digital tools on their website, but certainly the list is not exhaustive:

  • Blogs
  • Digital Images
  • Discussion Boards
  • E-Petitions
  • Flash Drives
  • Instant Messaging
  • Internet Telephony
  • Listservs
  • Mashups
  • Microblogging
  • Mobile Phones
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Social Networks
  • Video
  • Virtual Worlds
  • VOIP
  • Widgets
  • Wikis

You can find out more about DigiActive and their mission by going to

You can watch a short video on youtube created by DigiActive titled 'The New Change-Makers: An Introduction to Digital Activism.' 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

"Info-Activism" is the use of technology for people's campaigns

For us activists, info-activism is arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people for their rights with integration of technology. Info-activism enhances the usual tactics in campaigns. 

Activists has used information in their campaigns even before existing technologies. Correct analysis of concrete conditions came from unbiased information. Using info-activism, defining tactics on particular issues becomes a bit easier. 

Infoactivism is activism with conscious use of existing digital technology to help grassroots campaigns.

A 40 second video: What is Info-Activism

This short vdeo was made by Tactical Tech a few years ago:


Tanya Notley
Tactical Tech

Info-Activism Definition

I'd define info-activism as the strategic and deliberate use of Information within a campaign.  It's not necessarily digital or internet-based, in fact it often isn't one of those two things at all.  It's when advocate's and activists are savvy at getting information out to their audience and also at engaging their targets. 


info-activism handbook


Hey everyone!


At TTC we are currently working on a multimedia handbook for Information Activism and aiming to release it in September on DVD and online.

With the handbook we want to provide human rights advocates with tactics, tools and tips for turning information into action and social change. There will be an introductory animation outlining the concept of info-activism, a box filled with printed cards with practical exercises and case studies and ten video's describing ten specific tactics through interviews with over twenty human rights advocates from around the world. All these will be usable for trainings, workshops and meetings like strategic planning sessions.

Here's a link to an outake from the project to just the audio file of the introductory animation (From the voices of info-activists) :

I'll post a few more including video very soon. As we are still working on the handbook we'de really love to get any feedback on how you guys feel about what we've got so far :)


Not only exposing unknown information & Greenpeace's latest

One of the most pertinent lessons I have learned is that the best place to hide something is on the internet. In the 21st Century, individuals are constantly confronted with information, almost all of which is quickly forgotten or never even acknowledged. Therefore, information activism has a new task: no longer is it sufficient to expose information, now activists must be creative and find ways to get it remembered. This is a substantial change from the activists of the pre-cell phone and internet world. Greenpeace's actions are always focused at creatively displaying their message and information, not to expose information, but to highlight it.

Yesterday, Greenpeace hung an enormous poster at Mt. Rushmore urging the G8 to take measures to stop global warming. A month earlier a giant mock polar bear was left infront of government offices in D.C., creating another media stunt to remind the public that their elected representatives were faced with climate related legislation. None of this is 'new' information. Instead, it is creatively bringing already public and freely exposed information to the front of peoples' minds. This is exactly the kind of strategy that often needs to be taken up by information activists today. 


Phillip Paiement
New Tactics Intern

Turning information into action


Turning information into action is a very nice dialogue and the same has relevant context with the Human Rights situation in the District of Swat and over all in Pakistan and their so many examples that by visualizing the scenes and sharing the information through digital gate way 

The whole world and the entire nation come to know about the whipping of 17 years Swati girls and her humiliation when Taliban publicly whipped a teenage girl in a mediaeval fashion on the charge of her being involved in illicit relations here. According to the video received by the media, the girl wearing red dress was forced upside down on the floor and she was seen whipped on the hip.

Earlier also, Taliban had whipped closed-door several women for flesh trade, but this is for the first time a woman was whipped publicly. The woman was heard hysterically crying with pain, while she was laid upside down by the three brave stout Talibans.
 By presenting the information in the digitalized manner the world and the entire nation came to know about the human rights and especially women rights situation in District Swat and  Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry  took a suo motu notice of the media footage in which a 17 year old girl is being whipped out in the broad daylight in Swat. The matter was presented before a large bench on and summoned secretary of interior, chief secretary and other officials


The information has created immense pressure on the government to cease the peace deal with the Taliban and hence the security forces operation was launched to eliminate the extremists and militants. The footage and video of this un human acts creates vigilance in the local people especially women and the entire nation. The same has a positive impact on the local women, being illiterate , as the women were supporting the Taliban and Taliban leader on the basis of religious believes and hence aware the women about the real faces and creates awareness among them about their basic rights



Amjad Ali

How do we highlight less dramatic, equally-critical trends?

While not discounting the importance of such issues (and these are indeed important), my question is, how do we highlight less dramatic but equally-critical trends that control our lives in less visible fashion?

For instance, media censorship is often stark and ugly in parts of the so-called 'developing' world. But what happens when we have an unjust situation which is neatly covered up, and barely noticed, in the more affluent parts of the globe?

The media may not be censored in the affluent world, but it is certainly manipulated wholesale. And this is far more difficult to highlight. Or, isn't it? FN

FN *
M +91-9822122436 P +91-832-2409490
"640K ought to be enough for anybody." - Bill Gates


I have a published paper in Torture journal entitled Human Rights Abuses, Transparency, Impunity and the Web that is avaiable at this URL  or it can be googled directly. If anyone would like the PowerPoint version, just email me at

Steven Miles

University of Minnesota


---Examples of Info-Activism tactics

Share the ways that you have used mobiles phones, data visualization, art, video, digital media, mapping, facebook, twitter, etc etc to turn information into action for your human rights campaign. These info-activism tools can be used to: locate and unpack complex data, mobilize people, let people ask questions, witness and record, investigate and expose, visualize your message, amplify personal stories, use collective intelligence, manage your contacts, and adding humor.

If possible, please include:

  • a description of the tactic
  • what information was being presented and why
  • what tools were used to turn this information into action (ie mobile phones, maps, video)
  • did the tactic achieve its goal? 

Examples of Info-Activism from before the Digital Age

Using the Tactical Technology Collective definition of Info-Activism:

Info-Activism is what happens when rights advocates turn
information about their issue into action that will address it.
Info-Activism involves the strategic use of tools and tactics for
social change.

John Snow and Florence Nightingale are two examples of turning information into social change. Their work predates the internet and reminds us that modern technology is merely a tool and not the strategy.

John Snow mapped Cholera clusters around Broad Street to demonstrate his hypothesis that Cholera is being spread by contaminated well-water.

From Wikipedia: "Snow later used a spot map to illustrate how cases of cholera were centred around the pump. He also made a solid use of statistics to illustrate the connection between the quality of the source of water and cholera cases."

Another practitioner of info-activism was Florence Nightingale . In her article, Florence Nightingale: The passionate statisticianJulie Rehmeyer describes Nightingale as a statistician and as a contributor to graphing through using a Coxcomb graph to show the number of death in military hospitals and the causes of those deaths.

While technology allows us to make work easier and faster, the examples of Snow and Nightingale are instructive. As activists our primary tools will continue to be education and manual work.

Samir Nassar
Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow - 2009
New Tactics in Human Rights Project
CVT, Restoring the Dignity of the Human Spirit

Using maps in the digital age to communicate impact of abuse

Thanks, Samir, for the great examples of using maps to inform an audience on an issue and to communicate its impact!  I'd like to share one examples of how this same idea has been used in the past few years to communicate the impact of mountain top removal for coal mining in the USA. 

A group called Appalachian Voices teamed up with Google Earth to create an interactive, educational map of the impact of mountain top removal in the USA. was developed to host this map for the campaign to end mountain top removal.  What I love about this tactic (using Google Earth and maps to communicate the impact of mountain top removal) is that it was combined with a number of options for concerned citizens to ACT!  The information given to the audience was designed to inspire the person to act.  Citizens were (and still are) encouraged to contact their representatives, sign a pledge, spread the word, sign petitions, etc.  For more information on this partnership and to watch a video on why Appalachian Voices decided to use Google Earth, visit

Interested in using maps for your campaign?  Check out Tactical Tech's great guide to using maps for advocacy! This guide includes case studies, descriptions of procedures and methods, and a review of data sources.

How have you used maps in your campaign?

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Using maps in the digital age to communicate impact of abuse

I really like the idea of using maps for digital activism.

I recently taught a class in which I asked students to use Google Earth to track incidents of sexual assaults, other kinds of violence and  student drinking around campus. The results were startling: we could really begin to see how these kinds of variables might be connected.

mapping imapct of abuse

Hi Misha

a good idea - i especially like the idea of mapping smaller, more contained spaces like a campus where those connections are clear and the community is contrained enough to make change more manageable.

We are developing a project  mapping violence against women in south africa - using the ideas of a british research project called "mapping the gaps" in which gaps in service delivery become so obvious when you map services on incidences of violence.... another example of how maps make those links glaringly obvious! We also plan to create visual profiles of 'hot spots' for violence - for instance in open fields where there is not lighting and long grass - we then advocate for change (cut grass, get lighting working) and then map impact of those changes.....

 currently, these are plans in submission to funder! holding thumbs...!, Johannesburg South Africa:

Taking a BYte out of Gender Injustice

Mapping relationships

Thanks Sally-Jean and Misha for raising the issue of mapping and the many ways in mapping can be used.

New Tactics has developed a methodology called Tactical Mapping - this is a method of visualizing relationships, organizations, and institutions involved in sustaining human rights abuses, as well as potential relationships for building support and collaboration to overcome abuses. Then using that information to identify potential tactics for making an impact; tracking the
nature and potency of tactics available to affect these systems; and ultimately serving as a tool to monitor the implementation of a strategy.

Good luck with your currently pending proposal and let us know if you're interested to use our New Tactics tool as well - now or in the future.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Mapping Relationships

please i am already a member.should i propose topic for discussion or how? how can i take part on the dialogue on line?

Old wine in a new bottle?

Interesting! Does this imply that "information activism" is just old wine in a new bottle then?

While I don't dispute the above reality, I also think that what makes a difference now is:

  • At no time in the past was the exchange of information so rampant and widespread.
  • This is true of globally, nationally and locally.
  • A lot of non-Western societies have, in the past, focussed largely on the oral (rather than the written) medium. Today, they are compelled to go in for the written and also the digital --or risk being wholly overlooked.
  • Apart from the large amount of information floating around,some part of this information has also become very powerful. This means that information activism takes on new teeth in current times.
  • Of course, one can expect The Establishment(s) to take steps to counter this, to put out tainted information that could end up confusing everyone, and to somehow blunt the power of the new age information activist!

Just a few random thoughts... FN

FN *
M +91-9822122436 P +91-832-2409490

I am not quite sure that I

I am not quite sure that I was making the case for "Old wine in a new bottle" but there is a ring of truth to it.

I was first and foremost making the case that information activism has deep historical roots that activists and human rights practitioners forget at their own peril. The Nightingale and Snow examples are a strong reminder that information activism is primarily human-powered.

While technology makes the dissemination of information easier, faster and available to wider audiences, that very speed and breadth can trick us into thinking that the technology is the strategy and not the tool. Recent reportingon Iran underscores this.Somehow the message that many took away from events in Iran is that a group of individuals with access to information dissemination strategies somehow make a social movement. While tools like Twitter and Facebook were powerful at spreading the information faster than news organizations were able to or allowed themselves to be, they did not create movements. In fact, the echo-chamber effect and the creation of Twitter accounts that spread disinformation as well as Twitter users who are merely too ill-informed quickly spoiled the quality of information coming through those channels.

While I completely understand the pressure for communities, or even whole societies, to push towards the digital, there is a great risk of going forward without understanding what the digital is and how easily it is subverted by those who have better understanding of the technology and more resources to block your message. More importantly, the focus on digital technology at the expense of mastering the most basic of communication skills can be paralyzing when the digital tools go away or are taken away.

Activists everywhere are almost always better served by building core strengths of learning the essentials of written and spoken communication before anything else. If you live in the Third World then having command of English or another language is by far more important than using Twitter or creating a Facebook group. The ability to articulate well-reasoned arguments and anticipate counter-arguments are the primary tools of information activism. The ability to analyze and communicate quantitative data to create information is so essential that the lack of that skill is near deadly.

Once activists have the essential skills of argumentation, communication, writing and data analysis, then digital technologies become powerful tools that allow us to collect, mix and create new information to aid us in bringing about social change.

Samir Nassar
- Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow - 2009

Twitter: - Linkedin: - Website:

wine and info-activism

Just one comment -- Fred there is not such a thing as new wine in an old
bottle :-) unless you are cheating your friends. Wine is an interesting
metaphor though as it has been made known for centuries and produced pretty much in the same way since. However, even though the winemaking process is the same the grapes taste different every season depending on many factors and in this way they bring various new flavors.

So just imagine this scenario:  thanks to the global warming the weather
on the whole planet becomes as friendly to wine grapes as it is in
southern France or California -- and everybody is able to make their own
wine. That is exactly what has happened to information over the last ten
years thanks to new forms of information and communication exchange
(internet, mobiles) as well as access to tools that enable people to represent complex stories in visually effective ways.

As an experienced veteran of digital revolution, even you Fred were probably not able to imagine 10 years ago that there would be a time that the second most popular search website would be a video hosting website (YouTube)  whose content is mostly created by ordinary folk. Or that there would be satellite images of the earth available free to all allowing people to create their own interpretation of geo-spacial-political issues (not just google maps either!). And who would have thought that there would be millions of blog reporters and writers covering issues and events right across the globe and so on so on....

Seems like the audience of this discussion is well aware of all of this but it easy to forget that what has happened in terms of access and use of information in the past 10 years has been remarkable and it has changed what we can do and ultimately how power operates and is contested.

I  dont think that we at Tactical Tech care much about coining terms - we decided to use Info-Activism as a short way of saying 'information activism'. We used this terms instead of digital activism because this is the area of our work --
the point where digital and analogue (offline) methods of gathering, analysing and distributing information meet. There are as many limits to digital activism
just as there are benefits. I hope someone will post something about the
privacy and security challenges ( i can only refer to our work with
Frontline Defenders here -

The other reason we dont focus on digital activism is that only about 20% of population and access to internet and about one third of population to simply does not address issues of the majority of us and in particular marginalised communities - that we work with.

The other aspect of Information Activism worth mentioning here is
related to visualisation and representation of information. So far we
have written two guides that both give an interesting overview of
how graphics and maps have recently changed our ability to tell multilayer
stories and represent complex data.

While geographical mapping now often employs digital tools such as Google Maps or  IBM project maneyes ( the actual conceptualisation of visualisation can be maintained
in digital free environement and also turned into not digital forms
of representation such as stencils, hand made stickers, graffiti, street
theatre --you name it. What HAS changed though is the spread of information
through the use of new tactics and tools--  we are getting much quickly inspired as we learn from one another about what is possible and what works !

And we can also more clearly see the impact of what we do using online analytics tools that give us research data which years ago was only accessible to the most persistent and dedicated researchers. :-)


Effective low/non-tech approaches to info-activism

Great points, I very much appreciate the reference to information activism before the digital age as we forget too quickly how effective and powerful low/non-tech approaches can be. Subversive art, stickers, fliers (especially when dropped from the top of buildings for maximum dispersion), remain important.

I found this article on “How to Protest without Twitter” quite appealing:

I’d also like to emphasize the field of strategic civil resistance and in particular Gene Sharp’s list of 198 tactics for nonviolent action:

- Patrick Meier

Examples of Info-Activism from before the Digital Age

Samir -

Thanks. These are great examples. Anyone wanting to learn more about Snow and his exploration of the cholera epidemic in London should read The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson


Are there any examples of people using mobile technology for human rights and government accountability? How would a person get involved with that?

Inspiring (but...)

Hello from East Timor, where I am working with a number of partner organizations aligned against a potentially negative new Land Law. I found the Kenya example rather inspirational, even if it did not achieve the concrete policy change.

Relating to the Land Law issue here there is an "info activism" angle, that is, the time allowed for consultation is not sufficient (initially 2 mos, now 3 mos) and average people have little access to digestable information and no realistic way of making a technical submission to Parliament. (

Timorese civil society is doing its best to interpret the Law and promote debate but it is a race against time.

So on my own I have been daydreaming up a way of using SMS to send small "submissions" to parliament. Problem is, we will have trouble finding somebody to champion this here... Everybody is in the defensive mode and it's not easy to ask people to carve out time to strategize and talk tactics. Let alone find somebody to work on an SMS campaign.

It seems to me this is often the crux of the problem in many places I work. The work is so defensive, and combined with the issue of finding champions for innovation... Sorry to put a damper on things.

Repeating Kristin's request, it would be useful to see more examples of SMS campaigns, especially ones that are light on tech implications and can be developed with little commitment. Perhaps these could win over those who feel there is "no time to innovate".


Getting started

Hi Janet

I fully understand the issues you face, and see the same challenges faced by many NGOs, campaigns and projects in the work that I do. The first step, as you rightly say, is to understand what's possible, and see what else other people are doing.

You can read and find more on mobiles and mobile activism campaigns in these places:

As for a need to find champions of innovation, there are tools out there which are relatively easy to adopt for the kinds of things you're contemplating there. For the past four years I've been working on a piece of software called FrontlineSMS, which allows you to take a regular computer with an attached mobile phone, and turn it into a two-way text messaging hub. It has been used in places such as Zimbabwe, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and has been popular among the 'activist' community.

You can read more here:

The software is free, and support to users is free. You just pay whichever local operator you use for the messages you send, making it a fairly easy and relatively low barrier to entry.

I hope that helps.




Making connections in E. Timor...

Hi Janet, thanks for your comments. I was in Dili a couple years ago working with a local  group (Belun) to set up a community based conflict early warning and response network. We were also looking into the possibility of using SMS at the time. Are you in touch with them? I’d be happy to make introductions.

- Patrick Meier

More Egyptian Examples of using Mobile for Activism

Good examples!

In Egypt, we use mobile cameras to 'document' whatever we think it needs to be documented!

Almost every protest on street  is now  filmed by mobiles. Many of these films show how police are beating peaceful protestors this video is one of them, in which you see policemen are beating  Syham Shawada , a (female) journalist, while she is covering a protest  on 4th May 2009.and  the story was covered by traditional media.

Another recent example is the detention of Wael Abbas, a prominent blogger. Abbas was kept on the airport 2 weeks ago, while returning from Sweden. Egyptian Police confiscated his laptop and passport. The police officer said that there is no proof that Abbas was molested in anyway, as no official paper says something was confiscated, that means, the blogger can not report against keeping him.

Another Blogger and activist (A.K.A Demagh Mak) went to airport and filmed Wael and the police officer, with his mobile phone.

He also took a picture to a banner on the police office reads 'Don't Use Mobiles Here!"  


Noha Atef, editor of

Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Information Activism: Turning Inform

<p>Sophia, the in-a-box series is useful and helpful. But the challenge is<br />
how to spread it wider and make it more widely noticed. Would you agree<br />
that anything in a 'box' might make potential users a bit reluctant to<br />
open-and-try-it-out? Best, FN</p>
<p>New Tactics wrote:<br />
&gt; A New Tactics Community member wrote:<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; Hi NEFFME,<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; Not sure if you have come across our mobiles in a box toolkit. We have<br />
&gt; gathered a range of case studies on using mobile phones for advocacy. See<br />
&gt; <a href="" title="">http://mobiles.tactical... [1]<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; with regards to your question, I can think of two examples:<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; 1. Interactive SMS to influence local governance : See<br />
&gt; <a href="" title=" [2]<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; 2. Citizen Election Monitoring through SMS: See<br />
&gt; <a href="" title="">htt... [3]<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; Hope that helps!<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; Sophia<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; <a href="" title=""></a> [4]<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt;<br />
&gt; [1] <a href="" title="">http://mobiles.tactical... />
&gt; [2]<br />
&gt; <a href=" title=" />
&gt; [3] <a href="" title="">htt... />
&gt; [4] <a href="" title=""></a><br />
&gt; [5] <a href="" title=""> />
&gt;<br />

The 'Death Camps for Children' blog

This began as a result of gathering information about childcare conditions inside homes for 'disabled' children in Ukraine. Due to the influence of organised crime, the climate of fearhad co-opted most into silence.

The blog began as a web forum topic and was removed under pressure from a deluge of anonmous accusations. After that it was hosted by a citizens action network as a blog  where over a period of some months it evolved into a strategic plan for action.  

The strategy paper, delivered in October 2006 proposed a multi-component development plan, which in many ways targeted the post war Marshall Plan and hence it was described as a microeconomic 'Marshall Plan' for Ukraine.

The web journal which had hosted the original forum discussion was the vehicle of publication in August if the following year.

Impact had begun early in 2007 before publication when Ukraine's government announced the decision to open 400+ rehab centres for disabled children,

Other milestones can be seen in links from the site of the business, in itself a form of activism as the profit for purpose business model funding the mission in Ukraine.


Information activism is a two sided coin

It is easy to forget the instances of information activism which were utilized by those often identified as perpetrators, but the e-mail bombing tactic utilized by Serb citizens (with alleged claims that they were assisted by the Serbian government) brought the bombing campaign on citives like Belgrade and Novi Sad to the minds of hundreds of thousands of Americans.Hundreds of thousands of emails were sent daily to email addresses around the western world, broadcasting the Serbian citizen's point of view reagrding the NATO bombing, reminding their readers that there were people under their bombs.

Dorothy E. Denning's article titled "Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy" sheds light on how informational activism can be used in a multitude of ways, from spreading the message that innocent civilians are being killed in NATO bombing strikes,  to being used as a form of 'cyberterrorism'. The article also mentions the use of the radio, albeit 'ancient' for the post-baby boomer generation, in information activism. Again this has been used to help advocate human rights and bring notice of violations to mainstream media (think B92 and Radio Free Europe in the Yugoslavian War). However, again, it has been used by perpetrators in the unforgetable broadcasts of Radio Rwanda. 

Denning's article, although it is rather outdated for this topic, does cement a pertinent fact, namely that the tactics used by informational activists are often repeated or preceded in use by human rights violators. This brings up another important obstacle that human rights activists need to overcome: how to remain at the forefront of technological development and to best understand the feelings of social forces in order to best address their audience and 'out-inform' their opponents. 

Casestudy: Reporting on human rights violations & victories live

I've been working with Tactical Tech on a new guide to info-activism for rights advocates -- what follows is a draft of one of our case studies for the guide. We've chosen ten different tactics for info-activism. This case study, on the Unsung Peace Heroes campaign, is on how to use ICT to report in real-time. The tool spotlighted here is Ushahidi. Read on -- and please, if you have have feedback on the format, or what information is missing or that you'd like to know more about, please let me know with a comment or message.


Unsung Peace Heroes

WHO: Butterfly Works, Media Focus on Africa Foundation

WHERE: Kenya


Unsung Peace Heroes honored those who worked for peace after post-election violence in Kenya in December 2007. Kenyans could nominate people and organisations by text message and email, and with paper forms at peace events. Butterfly Works and Media Focus on Africa collected and mapped these nominations using Ushahidi. By taking reports of peace work, Peace Heroes was able to generate a map of hot spots of violence, rights violations, and displaced persons. Working with a local design school, Nairobits, nominations were translated and verified. In addition to online outreach, Peace Heroes placed newspaper, radio and television ads, and with paper handouts distributed by Nairobits students. The 5 winning Peace Heroes were recognised on national television, and used prize money to support their communities and peace projects. One winner, Joel, hid 18 people for 2 weeks in his compound to protect them from violence. He says, "I received congratulations through telephone and text messages from diverse communities from far and near.  As a family, we decided to draw a party and invite these people, those from the community, a local councillor and the administration to celebrate my being awarded the Unsung Peace Heroes Certificate. The need to form a peace initiative emerged during the party, and they mandated me to register a peace group and recruit members to address the violence." Marten Schoonman of Media Focus on Africa says, "The aim was to spread a message of hope and focus on the good in this time of trouble. The conflicts are far from solved, even today. Like the butterfly effect, a relatively small initiative like this has potential spin-off effects and unexpected benefits."

Tools used: Ushahidi, mobile phones, Facebook, website.

Reach: National. Over 500 nominations in one month, with peaks of 80 per day after Kenyan press coverage.

Cost: USD$18,000 (SMS system was USD$3000; remainder for publicity and awards for participants)

Resources:  Local staffers, volunteers and partner organisations to publicize the campaign and design the Facebook page.

Time: One month to collect nominations; three months after, awards and recognition given to Peace Heroes at ceremony.

Links to learn more:

What the winning Heroes did:

Facebook group:

Tips on implementing Ushahidi:


Melissa Gira Grant, writer and sex-worker activist, USA

Using tech to communicate and recognize human rights victories

Thanks, Melissa, for sharing this example of using SMS, maps and Facebook to recognize human rights victories in Kenya.  This story reminds me that the critical information to be communicated to an audience for a campaign does not have to motivate people to act via anger or frustration.  Instead, focusing on the power of individuals to make a difference in midst of these awful situations, can inspire not only action but hope and faith that we can change things!  The slogan 'Yes we can!' seemed to be a pretty effective motivator!  

New Tactics has a tactic from its online database that is similar to this, called Using a nomination campaign to identify new constituencies for human rights. Charles Maisel developed an Everyday Hero campaign in South Africa that asked women to nominate men that do not commit domestic violence.  Maisel wanted to engage these men to include them in his struggle to oppose domestic violence - to make them act.  Maisel used more traditional ways of reaching his audience:

Volunteers went house-to-house to ask women for information about the
good, positive men who lived there. Many people also mailed in
nominations, for a total of 50,000 responses identifying the “best”
fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers and male friends in the
country. The names and recommendation forms decorated local churches,
spreading awareness of the campaign and increasing its popularity.

Has anyone else used a nomination campaign to turn information into action? 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Using Games in a Campaign

How many person will be interested in playing an internet game?!....

Answering this question, shows you how effective a GAME could be in spreading a message, even more than a text blog entry.

Making an internet game on the subject of your campaign is not an easy work to do yourself, but you should always look around and you would find others who managed to make what you don't know

Examples: If you visited, you find this game It is an element of IRCT campaign kit, on UN Day against Torture .

Here also you can play a game with a police man and a thief That is not so related to torture, but is also tackling the relationship between citizens and police.

Notes: If you can make a game, don't hesitate to make one on the cause you are interested in. And please make it in English, so as much people as possible can play it. (In the Arab World most of us are familiar with internet games in English)

And When you publish a game in your campaign blog, keep it for a while in the front page, then make an animation banner for it, and let visitors see that you have a game.

-- Noha


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