Using Facebook for activism is fraught with risks

There has been the usual a great deal of discussion around the role of Facebook and Twitter in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Some of it has been balanced and sensible, others simplistic and frankly childish in analysis.  What has been missing from any of these discussions are the risks associated with using social media for organising.  Most of us use Facebook with abandon which might be OK for socialising with friends but when it comes to political activism more care is needed.

“Human Rights Video, Privacy and Visual Anonymity in the Facebook Age” published by Witness is a report on the risks associated with using social media for organising. Every activist involved with using social media, Facebook and YouTube in particular, need to read this article which explains the dangers for personal security and some of the misconceptions we have around privacy.

Some of the dilemmas of ’real name’ identity and ‘visual anonymity’ come together when we consider that so much of social justice advocacy in social media and online video spaces occurs in in spaces that are ‘public spaces’ only to the extent that their corporate owners permit it. As the internet researcher Ethan Zuckerman has put it:

Hosting your political movement on YouTube is a little like trying to hold a rally in a shopping mall. It looks like a public space, but it’s not — it’s a private space, and your use of it is governed by an agreement that works harder to protect YouTube’s fiscal viability than to protect your rights of free speech.

The article goes on to point out that activist themselves need to take responsibility for understanding ways in which they can take to protect themselves. There are also a number of steps service providers could take to ensure human rights activists have greater privacy …

Develop or incorporate tools and technologies into core functionality that enable both human rights activists and general users to exercise greater control over visual privacy

Change key usage and content policies (including those covering apps) to include specific reference to human rights:

Create officially-supported spaces in relevant products and in mobile and online settings, for curation and discussion of online content from a human rights perspective, to strengthen user and broader public understanding of human rights in the digital era:

Full article here.