The Documentalist

Facebook and Digital Activism

Posted in Reviews by Sarah on September 13, 2010

As part of my work on the Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study here at CRL, I spend a certain portion of my days searching the Web for instances and examples of how people use social media to organize activism.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have run across a couple of pieces about using Facebook in human rights. One looks at ways of informing the public of human ribelow.


How Facebook got involved in human rights film

By Alex Ben BlockThu Sep 9, 6:18 am ET on Yahoo! News

Image courtesy of

Though the article “How Facebook got involved in human rights film” does not provide a useful link to actual human rights content on Facebook, it does describe the work of Michealene Cristini Risley, a documentary film maker who traveled to Zimbabwe in 2007 “to make a documentary exposing sexual abuse by men who believed raping virgin girls would cure their HIV/AIDS”.  Early in her trip, Ms. Risley was arrested and detained–see the article for more details on her experiences–and perhaps one of the most striking features of her detainment was the central role that Facebook played in her release:

After three days, an American journalist who read about Risley’s predicament on her Facebook page alerted a CIA agent, who made a call to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. She was released unharmed and fled the country with her HD footage.

Upon returning to the US, Ms. Risley followed through on making her film in defense of women and girls in Zimbabwe–“Tapestries of Hope.”  The film is launching on September 28, 2010 with extensive support from social media, not least, Facebook:

On September 28, Risley will be at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., to thank its employees for the company’s role in her release and to go on Facebook’s LIVE streaming video channel to share her story and answer questions. It’s all part of the coordinated launch of the documentary, “Tapestries of Hope,” that came out of her trip.

Her Facebook appearance, which will be available for replay after the initial airing, serves as the centerpiece of an innovative marketing and promotional strategy employing new media — especially social media — as well as a limited theatrical release, cable TV and in-theater ads and hundreds of house parties, all to raise awareness of the issue and encourage Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, now winding its way through the U.S. Senate.

You can find information on the film release at the Tapestries of Hope Facebook page.  According to the article reviewed here, Ms. Risley’s Facebook appearance will be released on Facebook after the initial launch of the film on September 28th.

Hard to find human rights information on Facebook, but it’s there

Unfortunately, finding out about Facebook initiatives such as the “Tapestries of Hope” project is quite challenging.  There is no clear organization of human rights information on Facebook–users need to know what they’re looking for, which they likely learn through their extended on-line social network connections.  For the time being, Facebook users generally interested in Human Rights issues addressed through the site can do a general search for “human rights”–the search pulls up a number of hits, but it’s not an elegant tool.  Hopefully, if Facebook is serious about lending itself as a powerful tool for activism and awareness, it will devise a better means of leading users to dedicated human rights spaces.  In the meantime, we have to content ourselves with imperfect and imprecise search mechanisms within the site.

A DigiActive Introduction to facebook Activism

I found this resource through an informative post at the media/anthropology blog created by John Postill.  On September 12, 2010, Mr. Postill wrote a piece called “Facebook activism out of Burma, Morocco, and Egypt” that–in addition to providing notes on “A DigiActive Introduction to facebook Activism”–provides summaries of three human rights efforts that use facebook as an informative mobilizing tool.  Regarding the strengths and weaknesses of facebook as an activism tool, Mr. Postill’s notes on the report indicate:

“The social basis of  activism explains why  Facebook,  an  increasingly popular social  networking site,   is a natural companion for tech-savvy organizers.  Because of the site’s massive user base and its free tools, Facebook is almost too attractive to pass up.   However, the site has its flaws and is not a guarantee of organizing success.  This guide is written to provide some insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and how best to use Facebook to advance your movement.”


Pros: How Facebook Can Help Activists

  • Lots of People Use Facebook
  • The Price is Right
  • Hassle-Free Multimedia
  • Opt-in Targeting


Cons: Why Facebook Isn’t a Silver Bullet

  • Content on the Site is Disorganized
  • Dedication Levels are Opaque
  • Facebook isn’t Designed for Activism

(Source: John Postill)

DigiActive is an on-line volunteer organization “dedicated to helping grassroots activists around the world use the Internet and mobile phones to increase their impact. Our goal is a world of activists made more powerful and more effective through the use of digital technology” (DigiActive: Our Mission)    As part of its work, DigiActive has produced a number of guides and reports about the use of social media and digital technology in activism, which can be found in their “Guides and Resources” (found in the list of site categories listed on the right side of their Webpage).  Since it’s initial release in 2008, the “DigiActive introduction to facebook Activism” has also been released in Arabic and Spanish.  In 2009 DigiActive produced guides to using Twitter as a tool for activism, also available in the “Guides and Resources” category on the site.  It’s worth taking a close look at the reports and guides the organization produces on this site.

2 Responses

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  1. Khurshid Ahmed said, on December 9, 2011 at 9:21 am


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