Advocacy Week: The Emergence of Digital Advocacy (#WinterABC- Day6)

When the idea to tackle this topic for Day 6 of the WinterABC challenge was birthed in my mind, I hesitated. Mostly because I thought it would be yet another procedural tone when I should be tackling substantive issues already. Then I had a shift of mind, I realised that by writing about Digital Advocacy, I was in fact- advocating for it. I decided to proceed against this realization.

For those old enough to have lived through the era when there was no internet and social media, you will agree that if you were told then that mass campaigns and fights against various injustices could be done behind the screen- you would gasp in disbelief. Previously, Advocacy looked like place cards and marching bands chanting their convictions and calling out injustices. These days, Advocacy looks like #Hashtags, tweets, retweets, blog posts and so much more. We are living in an era that has witnessed the uprising of Digital Advocacy.

Digital Advocacy is defined by Policy as, “the use of technology to galvanize people towards a cause, whether it’s a policy or a product. It’s an organized effort to influence public perception. Adding that, at it’s core, it can be one of the strongest forces of civic technology .

The emergence of Digital Advocacy has been received by two main opposing views.

On one hand, there are people who ridicule the cause, condescendingly calling digital advocates “key board warriors”. Those that subscribe to this school of thought argue that injustices are reduced to “trends” or “hot topics” and that whether or not change is truly achieved, people move from one trend to another depending on what is latest. It is further argued that, digital advocacy is elitist as it only focuses on injustices that are able to reach media platforms and sidelines other injustices that may not be as “popular”. Under this perspective, it is lamented that after some time the hash-tags become… hush; whilst people’s grievances remain …. harsh.

On the other hand, there are people- like me, who recognise and appreciate the level of influence that is driven through digital advocacy. It is undeniable now more than ever, given the digital escalation that was mandated by the Covid outbreak, that the world is integrated through social and professional media platforms. I regard the internet as a window or portal to the outside world, it promotes integration and broadens perspectives.

Whereas the criticisms raised by those with reservations against digital advocacy may be emanating from genuine concerns, I believe it is disrespectful at best and inhumane at worst to belittle real life experiences and injustices into “trends”. The motives of all digital advocates cannot be stated with certainty for sure. However, I believe the same can be said about traditional advocates who would rally and chant. Even in that setting, one could only hope the cause was being supported from a genuine place. I strongly believe the same applies to digital advocacy and it cannot be justifiably sidelined based on this concern. Additionally, in a world filled with injustices, it is unfair to expect digital advocates to not vocalize or amplify on various causes in the fear of being perceived as “moving from trend to trend”.

I had a colleague who once argued that, the fact that first world injustices are broadcasted more than those of the third world is unfair. The said colleague made lengthy posts complaining about how attention is not given to local struggles. Again, I respected the perspective but was still bothered by the approach…I mean, would it not be better to use the platform you have to highlight the said local struggles than police and condemn others on how they advocate and what they choose to advocate for?

Furthermore, and unfortunately, just because a cause is fought for or supported doesn’t always imply results will yield at the desired rate. This is such a bitter pill to swallow for activists/advocates and it leads to advocacy fatigue when efforts are perceived to be in vain. However, it is no wonder that causes are fought for consistently. For instance, till date, every #InternationalWomen’sDay highlights problems that still need tackling because the patriarchal institution will take generations to follow to fully dismantle. Against this background, I contend that to perceive efforts by digital advocates to be moot because some results are not being achieved as hoped for is misguided, respectfully.

Having said that, I believe the power of digital advocacy cannot be overemphasized. Social media movements such as #MeToo have stirred up much needed conversations that cut across boarders. They allowed for people to feel seen and heard. The assurance of not being alone and the courage to share stories. Support groups emerged to help victims seek the desired justice and that is but only one example of how powerful and effective Digital Advocacy is.

Some notable things to consider when it comes to Digital Advocacy as guided by Voices of Youth, include:

  • Goals – what are you trying to achieve?
  • Audiences – who are you trying to influence?
  • Messages – what do you want them to know & do?
  • Tactics – how will you get there?
  • Timeline – when will you do what?
  • Monitoring & Evaluation – how successful are you

In conclusion, I reiterate that Digital Advocacy is not only inevitable in the era we are living in but is also beneficial. Notably, it may not be without flaws and as such, I urge anyone who notes flaws to be more solutions driven, being the change that’s desired to be seen as opposed to ridiculing the entire cause.

To all Digital Advocates reading this, never feel that your efforts are in vain. The post, retweet and hashtag movement you actively participate in has a positive ripple effect in the fight against injustices and in the support for noble causes.

Keep on keeping on!

Advocacy Week: Advocacy or Activism? (#WinterABC- Day 5)

The temperatures are dropping and the temptation to do the bare minimum and stay warm is at a high. However, we as Afrobloggers are defying the odds and pulling out our creative, informative and educative cards as we adequately deliberate on various topics. This week ushers us into the next phase of the #WinterABC2021 challenge.

As can be seen from my title, this week is all about Advocacy!!! I am more than excited to use this opportunity to share my convictions, beliefs and support to various causes on my blog. I am also thrilled to see what my fellow bloggers will be up to this week. I expect the various blogging platforms to be intense with LOUD, UNFILTERED and UNAPOLOGETIC voices!

For my first post of the Advocacy Week, I decided to be more procedural than substantive by discussing the difference between Advocacy and Activism ( for some reason, I believe this topic may be tackled by more bloggers- but, I feel it’s a fundamental build up to the rest of the week, so I’ll dive into it anyway).

I must state immediately though, that I did not always know that one could differentiate advocacy from activism or vice versa. For a long time, I used the two terminologies interchangeably. Until I discovered there are actually different albeit being related. This post will highlight the major differences between the two.

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is defined as “an act of speaking on behalf an individual, organisation, or idea”. It is used as a canopy term for many intervention tools.  It includes active lobbying via letter writing, meetings, running public forums, questions in parliament and other influential settings, participating in various consultative processes, digital advocacy etc.

To be an advocate is to speak and learn about social and political issues. Advocates bring attention to and EXPOSE injustices, thereby helping the activist in the fight against that said injustice. Advocates bring pivotal considerations from a grass root level to the forefront of popular conversation. It is said that Advocates use their platforms to draw attention to activists who initialize change.

Eva Lewis raises a cardinal point by arguing that, there are two parts to advocacy- vocalizing and amplifying. She importantly highlights that although everyone’s voice is important, there are instances were a step must be taken back to not vocalize but rather amplify the voices of others. (SO PROFOUND)

Stephen Hall summarizes the characteristics of Advocacy as follows:

  • Advocacy has three key components: relationships, sound policy, and respect;
  • Advocacy could be described as pre-emptive influence;
  • Advocacy can be either pro-active or re-active;
  • Advocacy usually has a non adversarial, diplomatic; soft touch
  • Advocacy can look like: lobbying for budget allocations, taxation changes, policy development and initiating and promoting dialogue

What is Activism?

Activism is understood to be the collective action to exert pressure on centers of power in order to remedy grievances and felt injustices. This is achieved by organizing, strategizing, mobilizing, and educating.

To be an activist is to act on one’s own behalf and on the behalf others when solving multi-sectorial issues such as: social, economic, cultural, religious and political issues. It is to be at the forefront of a movement, often times compromising one’s energy, resources and safety in order to seek justice and evoke change.

Stephen Hall summarizes the characteristics of Activists as follows:

  • Activism involves the use of vigorous campaigning to bring desired change;
  • Activism is often the result of a lack of relationships or unsuccessful advocacy
  • Activism sometimes uses questionable tactics – or even “illegal means” such as civil disobedience and non-violent or violent actions
  • Activism tends to be reactive to an issue
  • Lacks direct communication and relationships with key decision makers, hence relies heavily on media or the role of Advocates who may be better placed to have influential discussions with centers of power;

My understanding is that, most times activists are part of the direct group feeling the impact of a certain injustice. Whereas, Advocates albeit not being directly impacted, empathize and still use their voices in solidarity to champion the cause being driven by Activists and to amplify their concerns and greivances.

Can one be both an Advocate and Activist?

My answer to the question is YES.

From the foregoing distinction between the two, one would perceive Activists as soldiers on the battlefront whilst Advocates help in procuring the needed ammunitions and other supplies required to win the war. However, I would argue that Advocates are war buddies of Activists and that both play a pivotal, battle front role in fights against injustices.

Both are necessary in order to create systemic change. They help to bring about important social, political, and cultural changes throughout the world. Arguably, without one, the other cannot function.

To be an activist is to speak and act. To be an advocate is to listen and dialogue. Society can’t move forward without both.

In my view, the consequence of mislabeling when it comes to what one identifies as between the two is not detrimental. In fact, I believe it does not matter whether one identifies as an Activist or an Advocate. If anything, I would argue it is very possible to act in both capacities- consecutively or simultaneously. I believe what is cardinal is to speak and fight for what is right.

After all, as the saying goes:

One who remains silent in instances of injustice, chooses the side of the oppressor”

In the days to come, I will use this platform to vocalize my various convictions and amplify sentiments shared by others. Whether I will be regarded as an Activist or Advocate should be secondary to the matters that will be tackled which should be of primary importance and great concern.

Until then, read on & live long!