Guerilla Techniques for Online Activism

FreeVoice has an interesting blog post up on using the Internet and web for online activism.

The Invisible Ghost Writer: Using this strategy the person who has the “dangerous” information will build an alliance with another prominent blogger or writer in another country. The collaborator will then publish his article as if he is the one writing it. Prior to that, the ghost writer will conduct an analysis of his collaborator’s writing style, and adjust his writing styles. The collaborator will also do some editing to make it looks convincing that he is the actual writer. The Ghost writer will sometimes collaborate with another person who writes in a different language he is unfamiliar with.
The Trojan Horse Writer: In this strategy the writer will pretend as if he is supporting the government or the respective individual but will slowly discredit himself or shooting himself on the foot, thus discrediting the individual he is supporting.  For an example the government may want to keep silent on a certain issue. However, the Trojan horse writer will continue to harp on an issue by defending it rigorously so that it will open more questions and scrutiny. The writers needs to be very delicate and not to be carried away with certain issues, as it may drives away readers who feels suspicious of his writing agenda.
The Multi-Platform Advocates: The champion of an agenda will use several delivery platforms concurrently to further support the points or assertion that he is making. The most popular support platforms that he can use are Wikipedia, Youtube and Flickr. For example he can ask a friend to write an article in Wikipedia and make a reference to that article. With respect to this he can actually use his actual name, but can make a reference to a source that is anonymous. When he is making a reference to a source he needs to do it concurrently with other bloggers so that he won’t be seen as the first person to make certain claims. Photographs and Youtube are important media to create satire and “poke fun” at politicians. It creates a lasting impression and people can remember it well. In Malaysia Today blog for example, photographs and youtube are being used by either the commentators or the bloggers to supplement the writing process.

The Invisible Ghost Writer: Using this strategy the person who has the “dangerous” information will build an alliance with another prominent blogger or writer in another country. The collaborator will then publish his article as if he is the one writing it. Prior to that, the ghost writer will conduct an analysis of his collaborator’s writing style, and adjust his writing styles. The collaborator will also do some editing to make it looks convincing that he is the actual writer. The Ghost writer will sometimes collaborate with another person who writes in a different language he is unfamiliar with.

The Trojan Horse Writer: In this strategy the writer will pretend as if he is supporting the government or the respective individual but will slowly discredit himself or shooting himself on the foot, thus discrediting the individual he is supporting.  For an example the government may want to keep silent on a certain issue. However, the Trojan horse writer will continue to harp on an issue by defending it rigorously so that it will open more questions and scrutiny. The writers needs to be very delicate and not to be carried away with certain issues, as it may drives away readers who feels suspicious of his writing agenda.

The Multi-Platform Advocates: The champion of an agenda will use several delivery platforms concurrently to further support the points or assertion that he is making. The most popular support platforms that he can use are Wikipedia, Youtube and Flickr. For example he can ask a friend to write an article in Wikipedia and make a reference to that article. With respect to this he can actually use his actual name, but can make a reference to a source that is anonymous. When he is making a reference to a source he needs to do it concurrently with other bloggers so that he won’t be seen as the first person to make certain claims. Photographs and Youtube are important media to create satire and “poke fun” at politicians. It creates a lasting impression and people can remember it well. In Malaysia Today blog for example, photographs and youtube are being used by either the commentators or the bloggers to supplement the writing process.

As the blog post notes,

Even you think you could protect yourself from government detection, the government could simply ban the access to the website or content indefinitely. Then all your efforts will be futile and useless. As such, you need to assume that one day the government will block access to your website. The most logical thing for you to do is to collect the emails of your readers.

From the experience of creating and running Groundviews, there is actually much more you can do if the website you create risks being shut down, blocked or hacked.

I’ll cover these in detail in a subsequent post.

The Internet strengthening democracy?

Rarely does one find an article as sober and compelling as Evgeny Morozov’s Texting Toward Utopia: Does the Internet spread democracy? published in the Boston Review.

The article’s echoes Smriti Daniel’s conclusion in an article on Facebook activism in Sri Lanka published recently in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times, which ended by suggesting that “while it has the potential to be a powerful democratic tool, Facebook simply needs many more Sri Lankans online and engaged before it can be used as such.

I have in many previous posts addressed the issue of using the Internet and web under repressive regimes, and how blogs, web based tools and services as well as mobiles and SMS are shaping new public discourses around democracy and governance. These vital interrogations aren’t new, but the manner in which they are conducted, communicated and disseminated are in many countries undergirded by developments in telecoms.

Continue reading

Obama, the web, the Internet and mobiles

One of the many ways that the election of Barack Obama as president has echoed that of John F. Kennedy is his use of a new medium that will forever change politics. For Mr. Kennedy, it was television. For Mr. Obama, it is the Internet.

How Obama’s Internet Campaign Changed Politics, Claire Cain Miller, NY Times

It’s passe to suggest the implications arising out of the way Obama and his campaign leveraged the web and the Internet. While many say he outsmarted McCain, let’s not forget that he also outsmarted Hillary Clinton. When they were both battling it out for the Party nomination, there was a lot of commentary on the significant differences in their two websites, in both content and design / presentation. Obama’s website signified a very different approach to and understanding of the power of the Internet to shape electoral politics in the US today. Obama’s site design was matched by a team that understood social networking, mobile phone activism, traditional email campaigns, online video and multimedia and more generally, just using the web to animate the campaign and its supporters, including for example setting up micro-sites against smear attacks by Hillary Clinton. It was also clear that the Hillary camp realised the importance of the web to encourage or disenchant voters when in June 2008 they revamped the website and took off all the attacks Obama

The NY Times article will be a harbinger of many more that analyse in more detail ways in which Obama and his campaign team was able to animate and engage a younger vote base, very familiar with ICTs and new media as their preferred and oftentimes only means of creating, accessing, disseminating and engaging with content and discussions the politics of the US Presidential elections. Obama’s telegenics helped, but more through YouTube than through terrestrial or cable TV.

Obama’s was a hip, fresh, vibrant campaign – and being here in the US both during Super Tuesday in February and when Obama won, it’s easy to see why he and his campaign appealed to first time voters and younger voters (as well as other age groups). As others have noted,

What impressed me about the text-message campaign was that it was an effective device for collecting millions of voter contacts, while also signaling that Obama connects with young people. This won’t do much to persuade 50-something independents in the Midwest, but this is the type of marketing campaign that will get young people to register and to get to the poll.

And it hasn’t stopped with Obama’s victory at the election. A new site – www.change.gov – at least for the moment, continues the engagement he had during the campaign (or more importantly, perceived engagement) with voters in the US. A Flickr photostream shows hundreds of photos in support of Obama, and not just from those who voted for him.

Stirring up shit

There are lessons here for engaging citizens interested in the promotion of democracy even under repressive regimes like Sri Lanka today, some of which I will be keenly experimenting with in the months to come.

Authoritarian regimes and governments vs. bloggers

A recent article on the Citizen Media Summit organised by Global Voices Online featured in the European Journalism Centre website is essential reading for activist bloggers in particular and citizen journalists interested in interrogating repression, violent conflict and human rights abuses.

The article on the EJC website suggests that,

  • Blogging is a truly global phenomenon
  • Bloggers are under increasing attack and the line dividing mainstream journalism and blogging / citizen journalism is increasingly blurred in the eyes of repressive States and governments
  • The conversations are not just in English, but in the vernacular of regions and nations
  • Blogging is being taken more and more seriously as a serious form of communication, even when the content cannot always be taken seriously
  • Governments and repressive regimes can still control the Internet and web to a large degree
  • Governments and repressive regimes are powerless, in spite of this control, to wholly contain the free flow of information since to do so is increasingly to draw attention to outright censorship that cannot be erased, whitewashed or covered up – expending significant political capital. 
  • Bloggers and blogs are at the frontlines of democratic movements 
  • And yet, they often do not have the same protection as mainstream journalists or mechanisms / institutions of support, lobbying, advocacy and legal remedies when they are incarcerated or under attack
Sadly, though overall a good read, the EJC’s article also demonstrates the rather unfortunate proclivity for rodomantade and brash optimism when it comes to the reach and influence of new media and blogging. It notes for example, 
The technology, the ideas and the processes that have made possible blogs, social networks, and collaborative projects like Wikipedia also give many unconventional thinkers previously consigned to the margins of public life a platform that enables them to be heard by a dedicated (if often tiny) audience. 
That to me grossly oversimplifies things and is just bad, over broad and ultimately meaningless analysis. Blogs and blogging, from production to dissemination and influence need to take into account, inter alia, class, caste and (party) political power centres and structures. Importantly, issues like language politics, ethnicity and other identity markers and their interplay with web based media production and generation as well as aspects such as gender (which does not even get a single mention in the EJC article) cannot be ignored when talking about the reach and influence of blogs and blogging as a means of communication.
More on this in my next post.

YouTube wants more citizen journalists

Olivia M. is the new YouTube News Manager and she wants more citizen journalists to send in their content to the site.

YouTube was the only platform I considered for Vikalpa’s Video Channel (the first and sadly still the only citizen journalism video channel in Sri Lanka) but there are other sites, Vimeo and Veoh being two I use, that are fast catching up.

YouTube, because of its sheer size and accessibility for a site of this nature, is still useful, but I use Veoh to syndicate content to both YouTube and Google Video in addition to a copy on Veoh that’s of a higher resolution. Vimeo also supports HD, which is you have a fast connection looks delicious. In general, most of newer video sharing sites have much better resolution than YouTube, but of course this comes at the price of being inaccessible of slower connection (e.g. SLT “broadband”). 

One more impediment to serious citizen journalists and non-profits that encourage it. YouTube has a great non-profit programme, but as I noted in my previous post on it I hope YouTube extends service to non-profits registered outside of the US.

Because of all the sheer nonsense and junk on sites like YouTube it’s sometimes difficult to actually get to more serious content from citizen journalists. And I’m not talking about the TV news services opening up channels on YouTube (BBC, France24 and Al Jazeera to name but three) – those are fairly straightforward to find. But the stuff of issues that I care about related to peacebuilding and human rights are overwhelmed by a endless stream of drivel that makes exploring the site for new content that’s more to my taste tiresome.  

And I’m not too crazy about it’s design either, which looks more than a bit dated. But the thing is, YouTube works for what I do in Sri Lanka, is mobile friendly (you can upload videos directly to the site) and plays nice with slower connections (you hit play, sleep and when you wake up the next day, you can play the video jitter free)… 

So respond to Olivia M., send your videos, send your thoughts and let’s make YouTube better. Together.