Ideas Imprisoned No Longer

Imprisoned Ideas is an online campaign for the purpose of highlighting the cases of academics imprisoned for their work, frequently for human rights advocacy. The group uses Tumblr and Twitter to achieve greater awareness of these cases. But the campaign brought to mind several things I’d been considering about online activism in general.

Social media campaigns comes in various levels of competency and effectiveness but the significance of this campaign is that it directs support towards already existing campaigns on the ground. This incorporates the idea that social change cannot, and does not need to be imported or dropped in on people’s heads but rather emerges from the local context.

Each of the academics highlighted by the campaign has a petition and interest surrounding their arrest already but little support outside the local sphere. Imprisoned Ideas attempts to give a wider audience for these petitions, documentaries and campaigns.

Social media, while frequently used ineffectively or for lip-service activism spawning the phrase slacktivism, has great potential for assisting political and social movements.

For example this campaign could theoretically become a platform to be continuously updated, providing a excellent resource to journalists, activists and interested individuals.

Situations of political prisoners, such as Iranian physics postgraduate student Omid Kokabee or Professor Hadif Rashid al-Owais in the United Arab Emirates, are difficult to get accurate and up to date information, even for their own legal defense, never mind journalists or campaigners outside the country. This is a strategic decision by the governments in question to limit the capacity for international response or discussion. If journalists can’t access information how can they spread it? Twitter has already changed the nature of news reporting. Maybe it could change political behaviour as well.

Ventures like Imprisoned Ideas have the potential to be a platform that brings together grassroots campaigns for around the world and offer them support without taking over or claiming to have better solutions than campaigners on the ground.

It also raises the an idea I’d call “crowd-sourced activism” where the majority of the practical work is done on a local level but those local activists can receive publicity and put out calls for specific action, such as petitions or boycotts, through platforms such as the Imprisoned Ideas Twitter.

Fundraising through crowd sourcing on sites like IndieGogo and Kickstarter have proved the potential for fundraising in this way. That’s how the Veronica Mars movie has been made. If crowdfunding can change the music and film industries than why not political activism?

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