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!