Activism, civil society and new media

Old hopes are still alive in some quarters that Information Technologies (IT) are the magic bullet for development and social change. This sentiment has been most obvious amongst commentators who suggest that the successes of the 2011 Arab Spring were built upon new media in the form of Twitter and Facebook. Hard working grassroots activists in Egypt and Tunisia have been quick to challenge these assumptions.

In her contribution to a CIVICUS led discussion about online activism and civil society organisations Amanda Atwood, writing for Kubatana, a Zimbabwe-based information project had this to say

..ICTs are not the new quick-fix that will radically transform all of us into activists. Yes, some Egyptians and Tunisians used new media to express their support for and encourage others’ participation in the people power revolution there. But, as Nancy Messieh points out in a recent paper, “The number of people who took to the streets because of a call on Twitter cannot be compared to the number of people who took to the streets because of on-the-ground efforts of activists, who ventured into areas of Cairo and Egypt where Twitter was virtually unheard of the spread awareness.”

The reality is that most IT initiatives must be rooted in face-to-face campaigning for real and sustainable change to be achieved. Experience has shown that it is the thoughtful integration of IT strategies with traditional off-line tactics that allow local campaigns and initiatives to scale beyond the physical limitations of the human resources involved.

Read more about Kubatana's use of IT in Zimbabwe and Amanda's thoughts about activism and the work of traditional civil society organisations.