In my previous blog about online activism I looked at the potential of digital tools to bring about change offline. In this blog I want to look at digital activism in action to fight for justice in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In February 2009, a campaign was created to protest against members of a group who were sponsoring attacks on women drinking in pubs. The Pink Chaddi Campaign invited to send pink underwear (Chaddi in Hindi) to the head of the right-wing Hindu group Sri Ram Sena as symbol of a non-violent protest. More than 2,000 pairs were sent.
Whilst this may seem like a comical example, it shows the power of online activism - Facebook played a fundamental role in the campaign, helping it to go viral. The Pink Chaddi group mobilised 16,000 people to join the campaign within just three days, and had more than 50,000 members within a few months. As the blogger Guarav Mishra said it was “one of the best Indian examples of how grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools”.
The campaign succeeded in creating a space of debate between ordinary people and the Hindu right. It also catalysed the attention of mainstream media all around the world raising awareness of the problem far beyond the confines of the particular society.
Unfortunately, the campaign also highlighted the perils of online campaigning. In April 2009, the Facebook group was hacked, resulting in it being disabled. This is probably not surprising, we all are very aware of the risks the Internet can present. However, it also proves the power of the campaign. If it had not been so successful in catalysing civil society’s attention and raising awareness, it would have not been considered a threat worthy of attacking. It was able to create a powerful voice and make people reflect on the issue, scaring those who would prefer to silence the debate.
In 2004, Fahamu and Solidarity for African Women’s Right (SOAWR) ran a campaign in support of the Africa Women’s Rights Protocol. The Protocol’s aim was to provide a comprehensive framework for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights but needed to be approved by 15 countries in the African Union to come into force. The main tool used was a web-based petition gathering signatures in support of the protocol.
Fahamu was also able to add an SMS function to the petition, meaning that people could add their name via SMS. This was a remarkable innovation considering that Africa has much more mobile users than email users. The petition collected 4,000 signatures, of which 500 were received via text messages. Although this number may seem small, given the difficulties accessing the Internet in many African countries, it is nonetheless significant. Within 15 months, the required 15 countries finally ratified the protocol bringing it into force.
A final project I wanted to look at started in India in August 2010. I Paid a Bribe is an initiative launched by Janaagraha to fight corruption in Indian society. The project uses a website as platform for analysing and reporting corruption. Through the website people can report corrupt acts that will be aggregated and analysed in order to expose the most serious areas of corruption in the society. After assessing the cases reported, Janaagraha approaches the government for action.
Through the “Ask Raghu” section, the website also provides users with useful information on how they can address and resist corruption. According to Raghunandan, the creator of the project and a former senior civil servant, the website gets about 25 to 50 reports each day in the ‘I paid a bribe’, ‘I didn’t pay a bribe’ and ‘I didn’t have to pay a bribe’ sections and has about 20 questions asked on the “Ask Raghu” column every day.
Since the project was started very recently, it is still difficult to assess its impact on the Indian civil society. However, the frequency and volume of the reports and questions clearly demonstrates the need for a system to address these issues and the usefulness of this platform to the public.
The above projects are just a few examples of the numerous initiatives and actions that are taken online everywhere in the world. The impact of these campaigns has as wide a range as the digital tools that can be used. The combining factor is the will to improve civil societies and fight situations of injustice.
It is important to acknowledge these efforts and recognise their place in modern society. It may be that the revolution will not ‘take place’ online, but, as can be seen from the numerous example around the web, it is increasingly likely that it will start online.