Michael Geist on Digital Advocacy


I walked away from a talk about Web 2.0 tools humbled. Canadians have the right to gather and protest, but in some countries people are not so lucky. Professor Michael Geist said that leaders in some developing counties tweet their status in order to track their movement in case of impending violence.

Professor Geist is known for talking about copyright issues in his blog and in the print media. But his talk focused on how social advocacy and political protest intersect with Web 2.0 tools at a Toronto Association of Law Libraries talk last month.

He defines digital advocacy as using tools like Facebook for organizing politically. In fact, Young Drivers of Ontario Against New Ontario Laws used a Facebook page to bring people together for a common cause. At last count it had a little over 146,000 members.

Geist describes aspects of how digital advocacy can be effective. People are still need the human touch as online and offline advocacy blend together. For example, Net Neutrality is the topic of a blog,  and enough people were interested in this area that it has become issue with CRTC.

Digital advocacy can spur people to action like attend a rally, or persuade people to understand issues like new copyright bill, or write MP a letter. In June 2008 an amended copyright bill was introduced, and within 1 month to 6 month period, MPs across Canada heard from concerned constituents making copyright quickly into a hotly debated issue. Some MPs even held town hall meetings to discuss copyright reform, according to Geist.

The speed of digital advocacy tools is amazing. One example is a mashup combining Twitter and Google maps to display graphically where protesters are arrested in real time. Not all tools are popular everywhere. Facebook is not as popular in Africa as it is in Canada. Africans use cell phones a lot there text messaging is a popular tool.

Blogs, wikis and the like can educate people on issues that don’t make it into CNN or other mainstream media outlets. I can read about Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and many other topics on Global Voices a blog portal originally from Harvard University that hosts local bloggers with country editors and translated into English. A brillant idea.

Libraries are looking at Web 2.0 applications to advance their goals, but political organizers are using the same tools in very effective ways to be heard.

– Brenda


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