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A Survey of Digital Activism in Latin America

Submitted by on August 18, 2010 – 12:06 amNo Comment

During Saturday’s roundtable discussion at Campus Party, Monica Tapia of Alternativas y Capacidades volunteered a definition of digital activism: a campaign that uses digital tools to achieve a particular policy-related objective. So far we have documented three such case studies, all based in Mexico: 1) Artículo 19’s efforts to create a federal committee for the protection of journalists in Mexico, 2) Alternativas y Capacidades efforts to improve education policy, and 3) Fundar’s attempt to reform the federal agricultural subsidy program by bringing more transparency to how subsidies are distributed. While each of the three campaigns are at various stages of development, so far none of them are able to point to a concrete policy change as a result of their advocacy. In fact, there are very few examples in which concrete policy changes result from online activist campaigns. We will continue documenting at least 22 more case studies over the next five months in order to better understand the strategies, common obstacles, and best tools for activists wanting to create social change. Other groups are also documenting case studies throughout the region. A preliminary list:

DigiActive is an “independent collective of volunteers dedicated to helping grassroots activists around the world use the Internet and mobile phones to increase their impact.” Unfortunately the site hasn’t been updated since June, but many of the same contributors remain active at the Meta Activism Project. The following case studies were documented from 2008 – 2009:

The Alliance for Youth Movements describes itself as “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to identifying, connecting, and supporting digital activists” from around the world. It is supported by a diverse cast of corporate, government, and academic sponsors – everyone from MTV to Facebook to the US Department of State and Columbia University’s Law School. The network has been building a collection of digital activism case studies, many of which document the work of network delegates who have attended past summits in New York, Mexico City and London. Each case study includes two or three “key takeaways” for others interested in launching similar campaigns. From Latin America we find the following case studies:

A photo of Morro Das Pedras taken by a citizen journalist from Viva Favela.

The Technology for Transparency Network focuses on case studies in which digital tools are used specifically to promote transparency, accountability and civic participation. (Disclaimer: I directed research at the network during the first half of 2010.) Their case studies from Latin America:

  • Congreso Visible – a platform for citizens to inform themselves and communicate with their representatives in Colombia’s Congress.
  • Votenaweb – allows Brazilian citizens to compare their vote on congressional bills along with politicians.
  • Cuidemos el Voto – uses the Ushahidi platform to monitor and map misconduct in federal and municipal Mexican elections.
  • Congresso Aberto tracks, visualizes, and analyzes official data from Brazil’s Congress.
  • ProAcceso uses social media tools to form a coalition of organizations that work with Venezuela’s municipal governments to promote greater access to public information.
  • Dinero y Política is an online database that aims to make electoral campaign contributions more transparent in Argentina.
  • Cidade Democrática is a software platform that enables Brazilians to document and discuss municipal problems and solutions.
  • Guatemala Visible uses online video and social media to draw attention to the appointment and confirmation process of key public officials.
  • #InternetNecesario was a de-centralized campaign that began on Twitter to convince Mexican politicians to remove a three percent tax on internet access.
  • Adote um Vereador encourages Brazilian citizens to blog about the work of their local elected officials in order to hold them accountable.
  • Vota Inteligente aims to use technology provide Chilean citizens with more information about their elected officials.

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society, MobileActive, and HIVOS’ Digital Natives with a Cause initiative all frequently publish case studies about digital activism campaigns, but so far they have not focused on Latin America. The one exception is MobileActive’s case study of Rede Jovem, a Brazilian non-profit that trains youth in Rio de Janeiro to use GPS-enabled cell phones to create maps of five favelas.

A number of other journalistic case studies of digital activism projects in Latin America can be found in new and old media alike:

In the Spanish-language version of this post we will look at available case studies of digital activism projects in Latin America that are published in Spanish. A few great places to start: Masticable, David de Ugarte, Periodismo Ciudadano, and Pateando Piedras.

A review of the current case studies of digital activism projects in Latin America reveals that there is no shortage of organizations, informal groups, and individuals using digital tools to bring about social change in their countries. However, these case studies also reveal the enormous and time-consuming challenge of carrying out an online campaign that eventually creates, changes, or rescinds a policy. Further, it is clear that existing case studies have not yet been been analyzed closely enough to determine the effectiveness of various online tools and strategies to bring about social change. The Meta-Activism Project is building an open spreadsheet of case studies across projects, topics, and regions with the hope of establishing indicators to measure the effectiveness of digital activism campaigns. So far 104 case studies exist in their spreadsheet, but they are seeking more contributions.

And so are we. Surely there are other case studies of digital activism projects in Latin America that are not covered in this post. Please let us know by leaving a comment below or sending a link via our contact page.

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