This week I ended up in a discussion at work with interesting people from across Europe on how human rights advocates can use social media to raise awareness and change attitudes. Excited after our short talks I continued thinking about what is needed, and pinpointed a few preconditions that we tend to pay too little attention to.
Talking to new people: Most often, if not all the time, we are speaking to the already converted ones, the ones we know. As a consequence, we do not reach outside our own bubble. When we tweet we tweet to our followers and when we like a page on Facebook or share something we mostly reach the ones that already ‘like’ what we do. When we organise meetings we often invite others likeminded to discuss with us, or it is mostly those who tend to show up. We simple need to make new friends.
Making ourselves understood: Let’s face it, we need to modernise our language so ordinary people understand and become interested in what we want to convey. We have to learn how to translate our complex issues into simple messages. This is what the extreme far-right is doing, and this is also why they are several years ahead of human rights advocates in reaching ordinary people through media channels, including social media. A worrying trend we cannot deny and need to take serious.
We need to be able to talk to the cashier in our grocery store and the cleaner at our street, and if we cannot make them understand us we need to continue challenge ourselves.
When writing I always ask myself if it is necessary that I use jargons, abbreviations, complicated words and long sentences. Almost exclusively do I figure I can replace a long sentence with two short, find easier synonyms and spell out abbreviation. I also ask myself if the information I share is actually relevant and interesting for the point I want to make, which results in my texts being substantially shorter as ‘less is more’. Someone told me he was asked to provide a tweet describing what he was going to say ahead of an event he was speaking at; 140 characters is a good practice to simplify a message.
Keeping up with tech-trends: While institutions are barely learning how to use Facebook and Twitter, young people have since long moved on to other channels. When grandparents find their way to Facebook, their grandchildren are hanging out somewhere else. A new platform (that I did not know about) is Ask.fm, where a profile is created around questions and answers. The impact of online channels to recruite young women and men to ISIS is another example of why we have to keep up with technology and social media. This to be able to counter extremism and violence, change attitudes, and raise awareness about rights.
I am wondering if it isn’t as simple as asking young people and learn from them? If we don’t have children ourselves we might have a niece or a nephew, or a friend with children. In other words, we need to engage with the users. We also need to have a dialogue with the providers and researchers of technology, to help us think outside the box and find new and different solutions.
Sharing good practices: The European Council on Refugees and Exiles had a great campaign to #HelpSyriasRefugees. They asked people to ‘borrow’ their social media accounts to tell the experience of a few individual refugees on the move, over 16,500 people gave their voice to them. In Ireland a single person started a campaign on social media encouraging Irish people living abroad to go #HomeToVote for their referendum on same-sex marriage. It reached 64.000, including people sharing photos of their flight tickets to Ireland. There are many examples of how technology and social media has been used to reach people and inform about rights and violations of them. We have to share and learn from them.
As we know refugees depend on their smartphones (as their only belonging) on dangerous routes for a better life; for navigation and as a way to keep in touch with their networks and families. This proves the point that technology is vital, and has great potentials.
Convincing the boss: Communication officer and tech-friends tend to face resistance from within our workplaces, particularly when trying to convince our hierarchy’s to priorities and invest in communication & technology to reach the target group. My observation is that communication is a job prioritised only when resources allows, and often the first position laid off in case of funding cuts. It is considered a luxury rather than a necessity. Although one can wonder: if we do not communicate what we do, what is the purpose ? Communication officers often have great ideas of testing new products to enhance outreach, but are often limited to tidious tasks such as editing and proofreading long policy documents or reports, which unfortunately are read far below (unrealistic) expectations. Therefore, to implement the above ‘ways of working’ one has to spend some time on packaging the arguments in a way that will convince the boss.