Virtual social networks such as Facebook or the micro-blogging tool Twitter offer free platforms where campaign messages can be promoted. An increasing number of organizations are creating their own profiles or pages on these networks. These can be used to advertise for campaigns and related events by enrolling virtual “friends”, “fans” or followers, who may pass on the information to their own networks of “friends”. Many Facebook pages for example, also describe the key campaign messages, provide information about campaign activities, and give supporters opportunities to engage via ‘comments’ with other supporters on campaign-related issues. Twitter is increasingly becoming a tool to share up-to-the-minute information rapidly with large numbers of people – about upcoming activities, or to rally support or encourage immediate action (e.g. for demonstrations, to contact local politicians etc.) To choose the most effective platforms, find out which ones are most used by the campaign’s target audience(s).
Although little evidence is available on the contribution social media has made so far to ending violence against women and girls, its impact could potentially be significant. Social media is a convenient vehicle to reach an internet-literate, relatively young audience. Arguably, just as in “real life” community activism, virtual socializing on Facebook “friends” and Twitter “followers” can create a safe environment to discuss and experiment with “new” ideas and attitudes, e.g. to explore forms of masculinity that are more gender-equal than those in one’s “real-life” community. When combined with other communication channels – a high quality web-site, mass media announcements and community mobilization, for example – it may substantially broaden the reach of a campaign.
Practical tips for using the social web
“Respect Yourself” is a campaign initiated in May 2008 by an Egyptian journalist and the online magazine, Kelmetna, encouraging Egyptian men to renounce sexual harassment. A study in 2009 confirmed the large percentage (83%) of Egyptian women that were exposed to sexual and verbal harassment. (Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 2009).
The campaign promotes the idea that men should treat women the way they would like their sisters to be treated, i.e. refrain from all forms of sexual harassment and interfere when they see it happen. Kelmetna magazine hosts weekly seminars and discussions to raise awareness about the problem. In addition, campaigners and volunteers, aged between 14 and 25, take their work to the streets, talking to people about sexual harassment. One of their main goals is to convince the audience to refrain from all types of sexual harassment, and to speak out when they see it happening.
The journalist created a Respect Yourself Facebook group in support of the campaign in July 2008; as of March 2010, the group had more than 53,000 members who participate in on-line discussions on sexual harassment or real-life events. A number of organizations and public figures have lent their support to the initiative, such as TV and radio hosts, the Al Jazeera News Channel, and Dream TV's Al Ashera Masa'an show.
The Social Media Toolkit, produced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offers guidelines on how to plan, develop and implement social media activities. Although developed for use by the CDC, the toolkit can be applied to other issues and used by other organisations when developing social media tools.
Social Media Tools for Advocacy – Facebook, developed by WOUGNET is a simple guide to what Facebook is all about, and how it can be used for advocacy.