Saturday, December 1, 2012

Human Rights Advocates Capitalize on Social Media Tools - Ask, one of the world's biggest advocacy organizations, has seen the largest success rate due to its reliance on social media for its advocacy efforts. With more than 17 million members, continues to utilize social media to reach citizens across the world to join in fighting for the rights of human beings. 

"Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere."

Similar to the tools used for election campaigning, Avaaz uses engagement tools to get people and supporters of the different causes onboard. Operating in more than 15 different languages, Avaaz has set new standards for advocacy and lobbying across the world.

In a recent encounter with co-founder of earlier this year, Tom Perriello explained that the success of Avaaz is largely attributed to its ability to mobilize thousands of people across the world using a variety of online tools. People want to take action, they want to feel that they can be part of solving many of the challenges that the world is facing - and they want to be able to influence the decision-making process. Avaaz offers, along with its extensive offline advocacy efforts, a number of approaches to engage citizens on an array of issues. 

Looking closer at the Avaaz website, we can see how many similarities there are between the electoral campaigning websites and theirs. Tools for engagement, volunteering, supporting, donating and so on are featured on the main webpage. Frequent communication emails are sent to all members to include them in all processes undertaken by the Avaaz team to influence policies or call for the stop of human rights breaches. 

After signing a global petition on Avaaz to support the Palestinian bid for UN General Assembly recognition, I received yesterday an email from the Avaaz team highlighting the success of 'our' (members across the world) efforts. Below is an excerpt of that email showing how offline and online efforts led to significant success:
"Europe was the key swing vote, and under intense US pressure, leaders were, just two weeks ago, leaning towards not supporting the Palestinian state. Knowing the stakes, our community responded with the speed and democratic force that we needed to win:
  • Nearly 1.8 million of us signed the petition calling for statehood.

  • Thousands of us donated to fund public opinion polls across Europe -- showing that a whopping 79% of Europeans supported a Palestinian state. Our polls were plastered all over the media, and repeatedly cited in Parliamentary debates in the UK, Spain and France!

  • We sent tens of thousands of emails, Facebook messages and Tweets to leaders across Europe and made thousands of calls to foreign ministries and heads of state.

  • We unfurled a giant 4-storey banner outside the EU Commission in Brussels while leaders were meeting inside. Then, we staged another stunt in Madrid. Previously, we had sailed a flotilla of ships past the UN calling for a vote. Our actions made headlines all over Europe.

  • Avaaz staff and members met with dozens and dozens of government ministers, top advisors, senior journalists, parliamentarians and thought leaders in each of the key countries, always drawing on the surge in people power behind this cause.
One by one, key European states broke with the US to answer the call of justice and their peoples. In the final vote tally, only 9 countries out of 193 have voted against! France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and most of Europe has voted for Palestine."

Finally, there are many lessons learnt from the electoral campaigns we followed closely this semester. One of which, advocacy efforts can capitalize on the different tools social media offers in ways similar to political campaigning - at the end of the day, both forms of campaigning seek mass support for ideas and causes that aim to change reality. Both communicate to the average citizen/voter and call for action to be taken.

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