Yesterday, after Martyrs’ Square cleared out and before Valentines dates began, 10 activists and social media enthusiasts gathered at the SMEX offices in Badaro to watch the new video documentary 10 Tactics for Turning Information into Action (2009) and talk about the potential for using digital and social media for positive social change in Lebanon. Produced by Tactical Technology Collective, a British-based NGO known for its open-source In-a-Box toolkits and other guides, the video features interviews with 35 activists from all over the world, including Rebecca Saab Saade and Muzna al-Masri from Lebanon, who talk about how they are using digital and social media to advance their causes and issues. Saab Saade also subtitled the video in Arabic.
The 55-minute video is divided into 10 chapters, each of which is dedicated to showing examples of a specific tactic. The 10 tactics are: mobilize people, witness and record, visualize your message, amplify personal stories, just add humor, manage your contacts, simplifying complex data, use collective intelligence, let people ask the questions, and investigate and expose. Throughout, examples of campaigns, websites, and tools are given, along with realistic critiques of the successes and failures experienced.
Watch the trailer to get a sense of the content:
During the post-screening conversation, I asked for opinions about the video and how its lessons might be applied in Lebanon. Most everyone agreed that the video did a great job of answering yes to the question of whether new media tools—when combined with compelling information—could have a significant impact on feelings of self-empowerment as well as outreach and advocacy efforts. Less consensus emerged about the effect tools have had on realizing collective desires for policy or regime change.
A volunteer with the youth group Aie Serve said that it was great to see that all these things can be done but lamented that she didn’t have the “know-how” to produce such results. More training, she said, could help address this lack of skill for herself and her colleagues. An independent journalist also suggested just trying things for yourself. She used to be afraid to take on producing video, she said, until she learned just how easy it was.
Another Aie Serve member touched on the other prominent theme of the night: Once you get your information online, she asked, how do you make sure people check the material? With this question, the conversation branched into several threads. I wondered out loud whether the NGO, civil society, and social media communities in Lebanon, and especially Beirut, were too inward-looking. One blogger and trainer thought maybe it was less a question of preaching to the choir and more about a lack of bridging between the NGOs and technologists and even donors. There are many successful ongoing offline advocacy campaigns, but he said they remain unheard of because the traditional media isn’t interested covering them, and the groups aren’t using new media effectively yet.
The story is the same for even basic messaging and communications strategy among NGOs. In particular, one person commented, they don’t think enough about who there target audience is or take the time to establish clear project requirements beforehand, and they simply haven’t yet grasped the functionality of new media tools at any kind of scale. Of course, we all kept in mind the context of Lebanon’s slow, unreliable, and unaffordable Internet access.
I also raised the lack of crossover (largely a function of the fact that the news media in Lebanon doesn’t necessarily operate to serve the public interest) between new media and traditional media as being a factor in the lagging development of new media. The journalist suggested that some of the lesser-known media outlets, like her former employer iloubnan.info, might be a great place to send citizen-reported civil society event coverage. LBC was mentioned as the only network devoting serious resources to developing new business and operational models to reflect the changes new media will likely bring about in Lebanon even if at a much slower pace than in the US or elsewhere.
IndyAct was cited by some as one of the few examples of an activist organization using online media effectively in Lebanon. But others thought that recent tactics, like the Man in the Cube, while meant to raise awareness about climate change, actually turned out to be more show than substance. He didn’t tweet well, said one person. Another complained that the man should have been talking to the people throwing stuff at him, educating the passers-by about the need to care for the environment. Like the tactics featured in the film, nothing, it seems, satisfies everyone.
None of the major dilemmas raised were resolved, but an idea was proposed to launch a campaign to convey the importance of online media, not just for activism and advocacy, but also for e-government services, like those that are just beginning to come online at www.informs.gov.lb.
It’s all very meta, an offline-online media campaign to educate the public about the importance about online media. But I guess stranger things have happened in Leb.
The 10 Tactics DVD comes with two beautifully designed decks of cards that expand on the tactics and present other basic information and resource links. These cards can be used to aid strategic planning, coordination meetings, trainings, or anything else you can dream up. You can download the materials from the Tactical Tech website or NGOs can request that Tactical Tech ship them a toolkit. Additionally, SMEX has a limited number of copies for sale to local NGOs for the cost of the taxes we paid to receive them plus a little extra so that we can provide refreshments at events, $10 or 15,000LL per kit. Get in touch at 01-380-553 to reserve a copy. We will also be screening the video again soon, subscribe to our email newsletter (at right) or check our Calendar for dates and times.