Amnesty International USA (AI USA) used Twitter to urge the United States Department of State to respond to human rights violations in Bahrain.
Bahrain is a key US ally in the Middle East and hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. Given this close relationship, the US government was in a position to exert influence on the regime to address human rights violations. AI USA targeted the US Department of State specifically because they felt that a public stand by this US government office would increase the visibility and scrutiny of several trials of opposition figures taking place in Bahrain and send a strong message to the Bahraini government.
The AI USA Twitter campaign began on June 15, 2011. The goals of the campaign were twofold. First, AI USA wanted the US Department of State to respond publically to the human rights violations in Bahrain. Second, AI USA called specifically for the US administration to guarantee the presence of a high-level representative from the US embassy in Bahrain at the upcoming trials of opposition figures.
Prior to beginning the campaign, AI USA assessed the level of interest and support among its members to ensure that there would be sufficient involvement in the initiative. The day before the Twitter action, AI USA started to mobilize their supporters by issuing a press release and blog posts. The organization also shared sample tweets that supporters could send on the day of action. Additionally, the title of the blog post announcing the action was an actual sample tweet (including the target @statedept), so users were automatically participating when they shared the blog post. These preparations helped to advertise the campaign and make it easier for people to get involved.
During and after the campaign, AI USA collected a sample of tweets sent to the State Department as well as response tweets from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, using Storify. This action recap was then shared with their network of supporters on a blog post.
Several thousand people participated in the Twitter campaign and more than 16,000 activists signed an accompanying online petition. While the campaign did not accomplish its ultimate goal of high-level US presence at the Bahraini opposition trials, it did result in a public response on Twitter from Assistant Secretary of State Mike Posner. Assistant Secretary Posner had been in Bahrain around the time of the Twitter campaign, which created a sense of urgency around the issue. The timing of the campaign was a key factor in its success, because Assistant Secretary Posner also issued a statement on the human rights situation in Bahrain.
@amnesty, @hrw, @humanrights1st, et al - We remain concerned about the treatment of those people in detention in #Bahrain. #HumanRights
— Human Rights @ State (@State_DRL) June 16, 2011
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This tactic benefited from a defined goal and target. By focusing its efforts on the U.S. State Department and pressuring the agency on a particular response, Amnesty International USA was able to engage members and supporters in a focused and coordinated effort. This example also highlights the process of identifying relevant targets that can influence a particular human rights issue. In this case, the close relationship between the governments of the U.S. and Bahrain provided an opening to AI USA to pressure the State Department to take action.
The timing of social media tactics can be particularly important, and in this case, the trials in Bahrain provided a focus for the campaign and inspired greater participation. Additionally, the visit of a high level US government official around the same time of the action further helped to create urgency, a key factor for any campaigning.
AI USA also took advantage of one of social media’s strengths, the ability to connect messages directly to people in power who have a presence on social media sites such as Twitter.
Another transferable aspect of the approach is the use of Storify and blogs to share progress on the action with participants in real time. This allowed participants to see their actions had an impact, which can build deeper support and engagement.