Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

Online activism gets tactical with new documentary

Ten Tactics film title screen
Ten Tactics is calls on the experience of activists using technology

By Dave Lee
BBC World Service

The power of technology to mobilise the masses and force change has been felt across the world - and now a documentary film-maker hopes to offer "practical advice" for activists.

The film - 10 tactics for turning information into action - offers practical advice such as "amplify personal stories", and "how to use complex data".

"Technology and social media platforms have revolutionised the way we communicate and campaign on global and local issues," says Stephanie Hankey, co-founder of Tactical Tech, the NGO behind the film.

"We have seen examples of the power of social media to shine a spotlight on oppression and hold governments to account, notably in Iran and Burma."

Essential support

The film, which is being shown in over 35 countries, draws on the experience of 25 rights advocates from around the world who have used social media tools like Twitter, Google Earth and Facebook to successfully take on governments and corporations.

1. Mobilise People
2. Witness and Record
3. Visualise Your Message
4. Amplify Personal Stories
5. Just Add Humour
6. Investigate and Expose
7. How to Use Complex Data
8. Use Collective Intelligence
9. Let People Ask the Questions
10. Manage Your Contacts

Among them is Noha Atef, an Egyptian blogger who campaigned heavily for the release of prisoners, and Dina Mehta, who helped orchestrate a Twitter campaign to get blood donors and essential support to hospitals during the Mumbai terror attacks.

Tactical Tech tries to encourage productive use of information activism, the term they give to empowering people, using technology, with facts.

While the film heavily encourages social media use, it also takes time to explain the dangers and limitations.

"The security and privacy aspect of information-activism - any activity that is in anyway political - is extremely important to us," says Marek Tuszynski, also from Tactical Tech.

"We don't just tell people 'Hoorah! This is the ten tactics we have to be using'.

"In each tactic we explain the downsides of using it and how you should be protecting yourself."

Protecting victims

Sam Gregory, from human rights organisation Witness, also says efforts must be put in to make activists fully aware of the consequences of their actions online.

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"Victims and survivors of human rights abuses are already vulnerable, so it's really important when we film them to make sure we don't doubly victimise them.

"In a digital era you can't assume that once a piece of footage is out there it won't be copied, placed on YouTube, and seen by the perpetrator."

Beyond safety and privacy issues, Tactical Tech is also trying to warn of operational problems that activists may face.

"Facebook stops you from messaging the people in your group after you hit 5000," notes Namita Malhotra from the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.

"So without realising when we crossed that mark and became 16,000 and 40,000 we realised we could not communicate with anyone in the group anymore."

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