I was in Gaborone, Botswana last week at the invitation of the African Human Rights Consortium to train Human Rights activists from across Africa on how to use social media tools to inform their work. And as in any training that I do, I have never excused myself fro the learning process as well and there was a lot of learning to do here for all of us.
Peter got the ball rolling for us by introducing AHRC, the work they do and more importantly why he felt that this is the right time for the Human Rights experts to be taught how best to use social media. In peter’s words while kicking off the workshop, their work as human rights advocates is to use information as a tool to bring about change. And my role was to train these human rights advocates on how to best use social media to research and distribute this information in a way that will influence their targets.
I have advocated for Human Rights group among other NGO’s to start using social media in the various functions be it research or distribution of information. I was elated at the opportunity to train this group of people on social media. In a continent where we have had several revolutions that have been heavily tilted by social media, it has been noted among Human Rights Community that it is about time they began using social media intimately.
A couple of things stood out as I ran this workshop that I felt should be shared. As we discussed tools, platforms, experiences, and case studies; here is a list of what stood out:
- Rules of the game do not change just because platforms change. You do not get to suspend ethics and other rules governing research and release of information. Lets face it, it is easier today for any Human Rights activist to just retweet a story or share a link to a story without scrutinizing the whole story. But as a human rights activist whose word influences many, your voice lends credence to links you tweet or share and you should thus be careful that you are not sharing hearsay.
- In Social Media, you are always told to check your facts before posting them or someone else will. This is even more critical for Human Rights bodies because the quality of information you release builds or kills your credibility both on and offline. The information you release is your currency: it must be accurate, detailed, and thorough.
- Your target audience is key. You research and release reports with a view of influencing your target audience. This determines the language you use – technical or simple, the platforms you use to disseminate this info, and the length of reports. Peter told us of days that they would release 3000 page reports that no one would read and they would wonder why?
- The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Rightby Atul Gawande, MD, was another major takeaway from this workshop. In this checklist, Gawande highlights a number of checklist that are invaluable in social media. These are:
- The above means that it is no longer enough release reports, they must also meet the above thresholds. It must be findable online to those looking for it. It must be readable to the audience you are targeting. It must be understandable (goes without saying). It must be actionable (what can I do after reading the report?) It must be sharable (Does its format, size, etc make it easy for me to share it?)
- I also learned that there are many Human Rights activists languishing in the anonymity trap whereas they are the best resource persons for what they do in their respective countries. And these days, knowledge that is not shared does not do any good to anybody, even the wielder of this knowledge. And I believe it is about time that Human Rights activists in Africa became recognized authorities in their respective niches online.
- There was the issue of discretion on how to use social media. While it is evident that social media is a must going forward, Human Rights have to work with the now and that means using both traditional methods of reaching their audience such as Brochures, Radio, Newspapers, etc but which will increasingly be tempered with social media as use of the latter becomes more dominant in these communities.
On this note, I would like to mention that we do offer in-house training for organizations that would like to make their impact through social media.
How else do you social media and Human Rights could work going forward?