Posted by: Minna Aslama Horowitz | November 27, 2012

Week 5: The Helpers. Digital Humanitarianism

Motto for the Week : «Destabilization can extend political communication through horizontal civic communication, as well as through vertical communication between citizens». – P. Dahlgren

[Image:  Australian Aboriginal painting from the 1970s, depicting her community from a bird’s-eye view; mapping trees, bushes, stones, wells…]

We’ve learned about categories of participation, different kinds of public spheres emerging online, and the scale of collaborative intensity. We’ve looked a case of journalism that approaches the idea of community in a variety of ways.

During Weeks 5 and 6, we’ll examine some real life cases of digital communities. We’ll group them in two very broad categories.

This week, we’ll look at communities that gather online to help; that use digital organizing as one tool in doing good. Next week, we will look at communities that are involved in making social change happen; in using digital platforms to resist, to protest, to offer alternative structures, policies, practices, and  justice. (The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive — but this divide may help us to observe some specific dynamics and practices of the The Helpers and The Change-Makers/Dissidents).

Skepticism vs. Optimism

Quoting the famous urban sociologist Richard Sennett, “WE” is a protective strategy. For many, the question is about survival, and about what needs to survive in which conditions. Are we immigrants who stick together in a new country? Are we dissidents who seek company of the like-minded to make a difference? Are we parents who wish to collaborate with other parents to increase the safety of our block?

At the same time, for many a community is less about surviving than about agreeing, even conforming. It may be about maintaining the integrity and togetherness based on economic, political, perhaps even religious principles. In many national levels in the Western world, a growing concern about individualization and fragmentation of societies has been expressed by academics and individuals alike for the past decades. These are thinkers who see community less as a spontaneous and organic, more as a structured political unity that requires commitment. They fear that we’re ‘Bowling Alone‘ now…

One danger is that we no longer want to act as committed, informed citizens. And a great deal of blame has been put to mainstream media. At first, popularization and entertainization of mass media was said to be the cause for distrust in politics and political communities. Then Web 2.0 came along and the fears of ever more individualized lives emerged. Communities seem to appear and disappear ever more rapidly; and many of them seem to relate to mere entertainment and diversion, not political action. As the famous sociologist Anthony Giddens notes, the fear of disintegration of  social systems became ever more evident (and has happened concretely in the Arab World, for instance).

It has also been suggested many ‘community skeptics’ that since our ‘post-modern’ societies are characterized by ever increasing change, and since communities are consequently also changing faster and faster, there is a sense of loss and longing to an (utopian) community that would stabilize us. Technology plays a key role in most changes. While it has created a global village, how deeply engaged are we, after all, as members of that village? Is it, as  Zygmunt Bauman argues (see, also, this article), that while we know more than ever about the ‘miseries of the world’, we actually can do proportionally less to help:

One thing which has thus far escaped globalisation is our collective ability to act globally. Since our mutual dependence is already by and large global, our moral responsibility for each other is real as never before. Given, however, the economic bias of globalisation (the absence of political “artificial hands”), taking responsibility becomes yet more difficult. Our sensitivity is assaulted by sights which are bound to trigger our moral impulse to help – yet it is far from obvious what we could do to bring relief and succour to the sufferers.

Moral impulse won’t be enough to assure that the commitment to help will follow the sight of suffering. Indeed, our moral responses are increasingly blunted by our incapacity to act – we feel voyeuristic. Not for want of trying. We elect leaders to act on our behalf and to come together to agree on standards of actions which have global consequences.

There are a few approaches to the above: Knowledge about global problems doesn’t necessarily translate into action; we know so much but don’t have the tools to act. Alternatively, we do not commit to real action but, rather, engage in slacktivism… At the same time, individually, we are very committed to technology that facilitates communication (- forming a community – let’s not forget how close those terms are.) But  we can support movements such as the Arab Spring or a lone Pakistani girl wanting to educate herself (“We Are All Malala”)– merely because now we and the world knows, that is already a form of action, a form of international knowledge community, that can force change locally, nationally, regionally. Some people even talk about the do-it-yourself-foreign policy.

Digital Helpers: Different Shapes and Forms

But then we have Digital Humanitarianism, well explained in this short TedTalk. Digital platforms have not only made us aware but digital tools also help in new, creative ways:

  • The crisis mapping tool Ushahidi (great short intros here and here) is perhaps the most often cited example — and extensively analyzed by Shirky. We already talked about a similar local initiative, the MIT Hurricanehackers. Some even call these kinds of mapping efforts new journalism.
  • Projects like Kiva has made micro-lending easy and effective (see and example here). (And mobile banking — while often not a community — provides boost to emerging economies.)
  • Digital tools are giving people voices: One of pioneers is the non-profit Witness is teaching video activism against  human rights violations — and creating new communities (see the timeline of the organization here — it illustrates the development of digital platforms for human rights reporting in a great way.)
  • Free online education opens doors to those formerly very much excluded (as long as you have a computer). (BTW: Here’s a great Knight Journalism Foundation free online course on data visualization and infographics, taking place in January!)
  • Mhealth is one of the emerging fields of humanitarian action.

The examples of global implications are endless.

But as Clark and Aufderheide (in Jansen) note, people are now part of different publics; they form different kinds of communities. note local effects can be equally important: One of my favourite projects, small but effective, is VozMob, “a platform for immigrant and non-immigrant low wage workers in Los Angeles to create stories about their lives and communities directly from cell phones, thus gaining greater participation in the digital public sphere, especially for those with limited access to computers.”

And then we have issue-driven communities. Apart from all political-social causes, there are the fan helpers like those of the indie rock star Amanda Palmer: Her goal was to get $100,000 but she raised over 1 million on Kickstarter in less than a month (an act so unusual that it even caused a scandal). Harry Potter fans become “cultural acupuncturists” and use their community to evoke human rights activism. And there are friends of pitbulls (like me) who share rescue information, fundraise, and organize adoptions via Facebook. And so on…

Finally, we have national governments increasingly utilizing open data and digital technology. For instance, Icelanders just approved their crowdsourced constitution. Finland has recently launched a government-civic society partnership project for legislative proposals form the citizens… And here’s a short video depicting examples of e-government from the U.K.

Our Guest Blogger this week, Dr. Itir Akdogan, gives us an in-depth example: She  shares her experiences of a very concrete project making both (government) authorities and immigrants aware of the e-tools for inclusion and community-building.

Assignments for this week:

  • Re-read Shirky (what you might have left over).
  • Think of digital communities as ‘helpers’. Using ‘your country’ as a case, share your thoughts (enthusiasm as well as doubts) and interesting examples here, as a comment. Can you find examples that are specific to your country, or the region, or address a specific issue that pertains to your country? In addition, please make a quick note of those examples on our crowdsourced country mapping table on google docs, under “Digital Humanitarians” (communities to aid social/econ. development or the like) and “Cultural Collaborators” (other interesting communities).
  • Explore Itir’s post and especially the concrete toolkits for community-building. If you wish, do comment, ask questions, reflect. Itir will respond to any queries.
  • Due, as always, Fri night.


  1. Although digital platforms have been playing a role in enhancing the role of activism in South Africa, traditional communications forms have not been discarded because the majority of South Africans still do not have access to the internet.

    Activist groups in South Africa have used SMS to reach people due to the digital divide / poor internet coverage in the country. However, SMS is relatively expensive and these groups are beginning to exploit other digital platforms, but with limited penetration.

    Example of “Digital Humanitarians” (communities to aid social/econ. development or the like) in SA:

    The Treatment Action Campaign, website:

    This campaign began in 1998 as an activist platform for advocacy to ensure that all those living with HIV could have access to quality prevention and treatment services. Its target audience is the general public at large who are affected and infected by the virus.

    The campaign has over 16,000 members and 267 branches across South Africa. Among its achievements, it has successfully pressured the Government to implement countrywide mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention programs and universal anti-retroviral treatment programs.

    TAC communicates by email and SMS, alongside securing mass media coverage. The campaign makes limited use of social networks. It has a Facebook page (currently 708 followers) and a Twitter account (700 followers) and a YouTube channel (2 subscribers). Compared to TAC’s figures from 2011 Media Report, the use of social media in the country is increasing. In 2011 the figures of TAC were 152, 63 and 0, respectively.

    According to the Media Report South Africa, the campaign recognizes that the digital divide in South Africa poses challenges when it comes to receiving and imparting activist information via the internet. The internet has become an additional method, not a replacement one. All these forms of communication are used in conjunction with each other in order to gain more campaign support and exposure.

    Example of “Cultural Collaborators” (other interesting communities) in SA:

    Abahlali baseMjondolo, website:

    Abahlali baseMjondolo is a shack-dwellers’ movement in South Africa which is well known for its campaigning for public housing. It is the largest shack dweller’s organization in South Africa and campaigns to improve the living conditions of poor people and to democratize society from below.

    The movement makes considerable use of cellphones to organize its campaigns, and they have a Facebook page (currently 781 followers) and a Twitter account (161 followers), so the penetration via social media tools is very limited.

    • Thank you — fascinating! And you highlight the question of digital divide — and the illusion of mobile leapfrogging as the quick fix– very well!

  2. It is my firm belief that digital era becomes more visual daily and it has significant impact to the society. People can not only be listened by somebody but also they can influence to some extend on different situations.

    Speaking about Russia, mostly about the capitals, Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, there are also the development of digital tools and communities as well. However, people don’t trust each other and, moreover, try to supress each other by means of their power in network. People have acquired the possibility to express their opinions and they are restricted by their personality and it doesn’t matter for them what happens around.

    Despite this, there are some people in Russia who try to help and who use new techologies properly. As I gave an examples of such communities in our table, there are some organizations who take care about poor children or different kinds of people’ diseases. Basically, such people are either well-off figures in russian elite or just volunteers.

    All in all, I suppose that Russia as a country which has many perspectives and opportunities now is not a developed country in a sense of digital communities, because of its society, which probably is not so versatile and tolerant as some communities in Europe and the USA.

    • Thank you. I’m looking forward to your examples next week, when we’ll be discussing Digital Dissidents.

  3. There are quite a few digital communities that are formed around a collective cause with the goal of helping others or working for a social cause. Many of them are effective as well, there is no doubt that an online community could be of huge assistance in many cases and make a difference.

    In my opinion there are two main points that enable digital communities to be effective helpers, sometimes more effective than traditional, local communities. The first is the size of the potential audience. The voice of the community can be heard all over the world if the members of the community are able to create interesting contents that people care about, if they are able to tell their story. Like this it is possible to raise consciusness around the issue and possibly acquire members from all over the world, the location doesn’t matter.

    The second point is that digital communities make participation easy. In our conversations about Shirky’s modalities and the meaning of participation, many of us agreed that in certain cases a thought is enough and can be counted as participation. Digital communities make that thought visible. With a simple “like” or a quick comment it is possible to give hope to the ones in need and make them feel like people still care. Like this digital communities are able to include many people for whom the participation in demonstrations, gatherings, volunteer work or such is too much.

    On the other hand digital communities can give a false feeling of helping and making a huge difference. All the participation is important but people are needed in the field as well. Clicking “like” is great, but someone has to do more. Many of us “like” all sorts of things but how many of us are willing to for example go to demonstrations and donate money through the Internet? There are several levels of participation and fulfilling the urge to help with a single “like” can be dangerous in the sense that it can prevent a person of giving more.

    I found some interesting examples of digital helpers that are related to my country, Colombia. I’ll list a couple here.
    Tierramerica is a multmedia platform devoted to promote sustainable human development and raise consciusness of environmental issues. It works in all of Latin America and newspapers and reporters from many countries participate in this effort.
    Colombia Vive is an online community working from Boston for the human rights in Colombia. They are raising awareness of serious issues and violations of human rights happening in Colombia and organizing many kinds of things to help the Colombian society.
    Justice for Colombia is a similar kind of effort working in many countries publishing news, organizing projects and fund raisers for social justice in Colombia.

    These are the ones I found so far, I’ll be looking for more!

    • Great stuff! We often repeat (we=we educators) the same famous examples; often U.S.-based, as they get the most publicity. I’m so thrilled to learn about your examples from around the world.

    • Hi Petja!
      I just came across this site. Maybe there you could find useful information about Colombia!

  4. I think that Chris Abraham’s article speaks well to the perspective that I hold, and that is the online sphere is capable of engagement to the same level as offline activities. I believe that online connections are at least as relevant and rich as those happening external to the internet, which are shaped intrinsically by dated cultural and social norms, often repressive and prejudiced. The internet carries with it the potential to break down these barriers and build the momentum to carry that action forward into the more traditional arenas of social action and discourse. Many critics of the positive potential of social media and web 2.0 speak with fear to a break in the progression of our media construct that wipes away established forms of power and communication, like Keen’s Cult of the Amateur.

    • This is a really good intro to support groups that I didn’t address in this week’s post — although perhaps I should have (an interesting article about bullying and gender identity and online awareness/support coming up next week). I’d love you to discuss the Cult book a bit more — I haven’t read it and am very curious! Can you discuss it a bit more netx week when we’ll talk about online dissent communities (that often want to overthrow professional/expert/corporate power).

  5. The Italian blogosphere and digital-based communities started to grow in the early 2000s and the most popular ones are devoted to criticism of the mainstream media (which is a big issue in Italy according to the abnormal situation in media ownership mixing with politics and economics).

    But Digital Humanities in Italy “isn´t yet widely known or practiced” (according to Greta Franzini, a Digital Humanities PhD candidate at University College London, – a blog that is dedicated to the Digital Humanities)

    Even though I found couple of example from “my” country:

    Save Venice ( and Venice in Peril ( – two similar projects that aim to gather money to preserve the heritage of Venice (monuments and works of art). Beside the simple donation of money the members of this community can also adopt and finance the whole project.

    Amazzateci Tutti ( – a web site (translated as “Kill us all”) that is run by an iniciative of young people that fight against the italian mafia. They support the families and victims of organized crime.

    Beppe Brillo´s blog ( – mainly a political blog – Grillo, a television comedian writes this blog in opposition to mainstream media. His community follows him not only online but also on his on-stage shows and political events. The most important was in 2007 in Bologna (known as V-Day). Grillo gathered information about politicians that were accused of commiting crimes (from corruption to a murder attempt) and with his community he organized a petition in favor of a Popular Iniciative Act that would allow politicians with criminal convictions to be expelled from the parliament.

    • I’m very interested in the Digital Humanities blog! A great find! Can you share a bit more about it (it is, after all, a scholarly strand of thinking about digital lives…) Brillo, I understand, has been the most influential online dissident in Italy… I’m wondering — a question to anyone knowing more about Italy — given Berlusconi’s outrageous era and control over mass media, why is it that Italians didn’t gather online more?

  6. I want believe that digital humanitarianism and activism make participation a lot easier than what it used to be. There are a lot more movements out there than 10 years ago and it’s easy to find information about topics or issues one is interested in. At the same time we are very eager to click that “like” without really looking into the issues we’re discussing. Possibily due to the fact that there are just so many movements, people were so eager to “like” the KONY12 campaign and donate money to the campaign, without looking into where the money was going. Were we too exhausted from all the information we receive from everywhere that we were so excited by the appealing video that we forgot to do any research? Is the scene of online activism already too wide for us to focus?

    And that so called online activism we all seem to practice, how many of us would really be interested in doing something for the causes we “like” on Facebook or follow on Twitter? Probably not too many of us, but then again, “liking” something on Facebook is also a big part of raising awareness for the organizations. At least we are (hopefully) aware of the issues the organizations we like are dealing with, and that way one day we might actually be inspired to do something. But since liking is so easy, I wonder if anyone will be inspired to give anything else later on? What needs to be taken into account here, is that even though for example Finnish people in general are not too into donating money, in other places (such as the U.S.) that is a lot more common, even among students who don’t have a lot to give away from. Different tactics work differently in different places.

    Findinf online activism where the actual individuals would participate, in the Netherlands, was surprisingly hard. Partly this might be because the country is pretty active in international movements and the country was the 10th biggest donor of humanitarian aid in 2010 ( Are they done participating and donating? Or are there not enough issues that come close enough to people to provoke activism?

    I found some sites though:

    English Global Voices

    Based in the Netherlands, Global Voices is a community of more than 500 bloggers and translators around the world who work together to bring you reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. Global Voices is translated into more than 30 languages by volunteer translators, who have formed the Lingua project. Additionally, Global Voices has an Advocacy website and network to help people speak out online in places where their voices are censored. Global Voices also has an outreach project called Rising Voices to help marginalized communities use citizen media to be heard, with an emphasis on the developing world.

    Why We Protest

    Online community that’s not country-specific for individuals who want to protest against something or stand for something. Users can suggest topics for protesting (such as Naconon in the Netherlands) and discuss on plans of action on the forum with other users. The general tone of the forum and that thread in specific is leaned a bit toward terrorism, which doesn’t necessarily serve the purpose of the website. On the other hand, at least there are still people who want to take actions.

    Groen Front! Eart First!

    Earth First is a group of environmental activists in various compositions take up action for nature in the Netherlands. Earth First is also a network of radical nature lovers and anarchist eco-saboteurs. Since Earth First is not an organization, rather than a group of activists, there are now specific ways to contribute or help. As the website says “you can gather up friends, acquaintances or local residents to undertake an action under the name GroenFront!. You can also come to our annual gatherings where there are workshops and discussion about action campagnes or for example to ope information evenings about subjects that GroenFront! is taking action about.”

    • A great observation about the NL’s global role. Also, I’m thinking of the nature of NL as a small country — might that have something to do with the absence of significant online communities? Although…I believe that online communities are quite important for ethnic minorities and immigrants…

      • I agree that “liking” is also a way of raising awareness. However, I disagree that it all that easy to collect likes. My personal experience of managing a Facebook page about global development in Estonia shows that people only click “like” if they REALLY care for the topic…not all stories, pictures, pages etc get likes and that it is actually get tons of “likes”. I think that it is still highly important how the message is worded/formatted/etc for it to have an impact on the way people act on the new knowledge…And this takes us right back to Z. Bauman’s article (great article, btw!) and we can think about whether we actually get to less offline activity if we collect a lot of awareness raising via “likes” (clicktivism).

  7. As a somewhat of a digital optimist, I must say that I believe that Digital Humanitarianism does take place in social communities on the web and it has the potential to realize in real life mobilization. As sociologists referred to in this blogpost fear, Web 2.0 leads to further atomization and individualization, the “bowling alone”-phenomenon. As Shirky states in his thoughts on cognitive surplus, I don’t see that online activism necessarily results in offline passivity. The potential of online communities is real when the context is right and there is a spark that leads to real-life activism.

    What concerns my country, Morocco, a recent and most attention achieved social, political and media event is the Arab spring of 2011, where the role of citizens and the social media is enormous. As I stated in google docs, the role of a state-centered media was questioned for the first time in this extent in the Arab world. Social media facilitated the spreading of news, pictures, experiences and opinions throughout the web to the citizens in different parts of Morocco and across nation borders resulting in the growth of the phenomenon. The steadily increasing citizen engagement on the Internet created social networks to inform, mobilize, entertain, create communities, increase transparency, and seek to hold governments accountable.

    Like never before (at least in the Arab world), did online activism result in citizen mobility of this volume. It is said by scholars that the use of digital platforms bought about the most dramatic and unforeseen improvement in freedom of expression, association, and access to information in contemporary Arab history. What is new to even media considered high in quality (like Al Jazeera), social media has enabled the masses to establish their own agendas not dependent on the outlets or platforms to voice out their opinions.

    In my case, there was a seed of discontent amongst a “sleeping” community, all that had to be done was to unleash it – as Chris Abraham said in the Huffington Post blog entry: “Digital Communities are not Made, they are discovered”. The citizens opinions were fueled by a proper media platform as well by each other as a mass to stand with.

    Here is an interesting website that underlines the online citizen activity in Morocco:

    They “Serve as a channel for all voices supporting social empowerment through peace, equality and freedom in Morocco.” One can also follow “Moroccons for change” on Facebook and add ideas, photos and videos. The site depicts the want for social, economic and politic reform and the immense role of social media in this process.

    • You have one of the more ‘dramatic’ countries to examine — and you’ll get to elaborate on Morocco next week when we discuss mobilizing dissident action and rebellion. This is a bit beyond this week’s assignment — but I was just wondering… Do we know about the gender differences in social media use during the Arab Spring?

      • Indeed, I guess I did take too much of a bite from the most obvious of points regarding an Arab country and social media – the Arab Spring. A good point you brought up, gender differences in social media (in general and during the Arab Spring), is something very recent in Morocco’s usage of the internet as well as the boom of the internet using youth, the “netizens”. The growth in the use of the internet and social media is argued to have empowered the women in Arabic countries as well as the youth. These two groups can be seen as the ones to take advantage of the new-found possibilities of the internet, connecting and self-expression.

        Concerning digital humanitarianism and digital helpers, women in the Arab world do not use social media in the same numbers as in the rest of the world (the use of Facebook is roughly the same for men and women globally). However, the Arab Spring gave rise to the percentage of women using social media in the Arab countries. Social media allowed women to take on a new form of leadership focusing on utilizing connections and networks (stereotypically it is said that women are more networked than men – does it take place in the cyber world?).

        What is important to notice is that the Arab women were not only cyber activists, but were active participants on the ground, taking part in, organizing, and leading protests for freedom from tyranny. This was so significant that the Nobel Peace Prize went to an Arab woman (for the first time ever!) – Yemeni Tawakkul Karman.

        Something interesting a Qatari author – Amal al-Malki – brought up and criticized is that the actual position or even actions of women has not changed in the Arab Spring AT ALL but their activism just surfaced in a new and more visible way. Women have been activists before the internet and that there is nothing that special of this uprising for women. The states that exposure was different than before, and that resulted in the romanticizing of activist women in the Arab world. She demands for the institutionalization of womens rights, which is absolutely right, but in my opinion one should not perhaps undermine the results of the visibility of the womens actions. Bringing women into the limelight by boosting there image as active citizens (online and offline) – would hopefully result in the actual enhancement of womens institutional and societal rights.

        Al-Malki argues that women still don’t have a voice in Arab countries – but I see that social media gives them a kind of more global voice and a platform for never-seen-before exposure that could at best influence their rights indirectly through international pressure from other countries and institutions.

        So I guess what I am saying is that social media in this case is not the answer per se, but it is a channel for minorities and groups to get their once muffled voices out in the public and especially visible on an international scale. The activism stays the same – exposure is exponential.

        What al-Malki argues is that the efforts of women were accepted by men and they were treated as equals as long as the topics for protest were accepted and correspond with the goals of the nation (a very patriarchal one), but the second women brought up the question of womens institutional rights, hell broke loose and women were very quickly shown there place again. Women are given a voice when it is convenient. I guess a big leap is though the inclusion of women to a common cause and the acceptance of active citizens. It remains to be seen whether women get broader civic and societal rights.

  8. The argument about the power and “real influence” of digital activism seems to be in everyone’s lips today. There is ongoing debate on issues such as if “Liking” in Facebook matters and if social media offers us something else than funny cat-videos in YouTube. I, myself, want to believe that digital activism matters and can have an impact on the society. However, even if we have the tools to make a change, it doesn’t matter that we would do it. But I also believe that we are just learning to use these new tools and opportunities given to us and testing what all we could do with them. Already now there are some great examples of digital activism that has produced such mobilization and results that wouldn’t have been possible without this new media. Even if we mainly use digital media to connect with our friends and to entertain ourselves, sometimes this use also turns into something that influences on the “common good”. Even if we could do so much more, its good that we are doing even little which is better than nothing. I want to believe that digital activism will also develop and have bigger influence on society the more we use it. And then the question if “Liking” has any real impact on anything. Companies at least believe that it does have, or why else would they be organizing huge marketing campaigns to get more people to “Like” them? It must have some kind of impact, at least it raises the awareness of companies like Eva said.

    (There is actually an interesting example going on right now in Facebook about these digital helpers. A student (boy) went missing last Sunday night in Otaniemi, one of the biggest campus in Finland, and a big amount of people has joined a Facebook group that has been made to give information and share news and tips about where he might be.)

    It was actually quite hard to find information on digital activism in Argentina. Most of the news I was able to find were about huge, nation wide campaigns which seem to be quite common. Many Argentinians aren’t very happy with the policies their government is practicing and they are also very active in expressing their opinions about any changes happening in society or economy.

    “Justice, Liberty, Security, Inflation, Locked Exchanged Market”

    On September 13, 2012, various demonstrations and cacerolazos (pots and pans protest) were held across Argentina to protest the recent policies enacted by the government of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The whole movement was organized in social networks, especially in Facebook group “Yo no voté a la Kretina y Ud?” (I did not vote the Cretin and you?). There was also a video on YouTube called “Bare Argentina”, where Yamil Santoro undresses while telling viewers why they should participate in the protests on September 13.


    On November 8, 2012, a new national protest took place in Argentina under the slogan #8N which makes reference to the date of the mobilization. This mobilization was also organized through various different channels of social media, especially in Twitter, where many opinions, reports, photos and videos were published. The ones favoring the protest were found under the hashtag #8NYoVoyPorQue (#8N I go because) where Argentinians shared the reasons to protest, and the ones against under #8NYoNoVoyPorQue (#8N I don’t go because).

    Dinero y Política

    Dinero y Política is an online database that aims to make electoral campaign contributions more transparent in Argentina. It claims that the transparency of finance in politics is fundamental for democracy. They provide the information on issues such as who finances the campaigns, how much money the candidates receive, what are the things that influence on these candidate’s interests, how big are the differences between finance received, etc.

    • I enjoyed your comment very much, Laura. You reminded me of what a friend, active in media advocacy and democratization, said to me recently. He got a bit mad when I brought up the clicktivism debate and noted how besides the point that is. What matters is that we have the tools, and we make them more and more accessible to more and more people, and those in need will use them.

      Great transparency example! More about political activism next week.

      • PS Let us know what happens with the Otaniemi case…

  9. GDM-course

    Digital communities as ”helpers”

    Online communities can often naturally adopt the role of helpers. The UK, the country I picked for this assignment, scores high on the list of online participation activity in Europe. As Twitter, Facebook and blogs are hugely popular, there are probably numerous small online communities being formed as we speak. Some of them can be considered ”digital humanitarians” – communities that do good by helping, mobilizing, and taking action (as Paul Conneally described in his TED Talk).

    When thinking about digital communities as helpers, or ”digital humanitarianism”, the first to pop into my head were the online communities working around charities. Well known global examples are the likes of Kiva (mentioned on the blog) and Plan’s child sponsoring programmes, where you can sponsor a child or a community by yourself or with a group. People in the UK often act online mostly as donors – usually they donate a certain amount of money to a case or charity thanks to effective online campaigning. They are also eager to ”like” different campaigns, such as the above mentioned KONY2012, or more local campaigns. However, I don’t really see ”liking” as something that’s enough to form a community.

    Examples of bigger, more official online communities were actually surprisingly hard to find. I personally coulnd’t think of any by myself, and random googling didn’t help much. I mainly found some examples of more traditional communities like UK Feminista (, who campaign for gender equality both online and offline, and Animal Rights UK ( Even though I wouldn’t necessarily name them merely ”online communities”, a big part of their work takes place online. All in all I think the line is blurring between ordinary communities and online communities, since more and more of the action is happening online.

    When thinking about digital humanitarianism, sometimes helping communities form around smaller issues and individual destinies. One person’s tragic story or public plead is often enough to either raise significant amounts of money or get people to act in some other way. A recent example of this is the case of Alice Pyne (@Alice_Pyne), a 16-year-old teenager suffering from terminal cancer. She became known last year after starting to blog and use Twitter and putting together a bucket list of things she still wanted to do before she died. One of her dreams was to trend the hashtag #alicesbucketlist on Twitter, and it did trend for several days, altogether several weeks. Alice runs her own charity Alice’s Escapes (, which is run by a team of volunteers and committed to providing free holidays for families with a seriously ill child. However, the main thing that has formed a kind of an online community around Alice’s case, is the fact that she also campaings for getting people to sign up on bone marrow register and become donors. She has many different channels of campaigning, but the biggest community has formed on Twitter. Alice has over 20,000 Twitter followers, many of whom are active in campaigning themselves to raise more awareness for Alice’s case and to get more people to join the donor list. Alice is also an inspiration to many with her positive attitude, and her motto #OneLifeLiveIt is currently a trending topic in the UK on Twitter.

    Alice is certainly not the only example of such cases, but one of the most well known thanks to media coverage. Fundraising and short-term campaigning for needy causes is very common, but I’m wondering how big a part actually become active online communities in the end? For example Alice has been able to campaign actively for almost two years, gaining followers and creating a community around her cause, but how long will that sense of a community last? What happens when Alice loses her fight against her illness – will the community carry on ’on its own’, or perhaps on the back of other similar cases?

    In the UK, online helper communities can also form around temporary local crises such as floods or riots, as well as in fan comminities for example. I can imagine that cases like Amanda Palmer raising 1 million dollars to make an album are already happening in the UK as well, although perhaps on a smaller scale. Usually though, I’d see fan communities more as cultural collaborators than helpers (altough obviously they ”help” their favourite artists and the music industry all the time by buying records and tickets and raising awarness).

    I don’t see any of the types of communities mentioned above as something specific to only Britain. Instead, the Brits are often eager to take part in a global community. I once saw one person comment on online communities on the Guardian website in a very optimistic way: ”Marshall McLuhan predicted in the sixties that we would live in a global village. Online communities are just that. What a brilliant prediction. What progress for the human species.” Well, the Brits do often love to have a sense of belonging and participating, so maybe that’s why it’s common to donate money online for causes they find important. I’ll continue looking, maybe I can find some examples that are truly British!

    Paul Conneally’s talk on digital humanitarianism indeed gave a good insight into it, but was slightly restricted, concentrating mainly on sms technologies, which are generally more applicable to developing countries than countries like the UK. What was interesting in Conneally’s talk was to notice that digital humanitarianism actually works both ways – from the people in need of help to the helpers, and from the helpers to the people who need the help.

    All in all I am quite positive about the influence that online communities potentially have. Although one could think that ”clicktivism” is merely a lazy form of ”activism” and people aren’t really doing anything to help, I still think the awareness that can be raised for a certain issue online is so vast that the influence shoudn’t be underestimated.

    • Emmi: SO many observant, relevant points. First, I’d consider fans issue-driven helpers as well, but mainly as cultural collaborators. The Harry Potter fans working on human rights (and Josh Groben fans starting a charitable fund to honour him, read about this in Shirky) mix and match humanitarian action and cultural collaboration. But these are just discursive categories I’m playing with. I hope we can distill some that work in our session on 11.12., based on all our work…

      Great points, again, about the duration of a community. I’m wondering whether we carry an expectation of a community being ever- or long-lasting (as territorial communities used to be, historically just because mobility (literal, social) wasn’t that easy…). This topic really intrigues me… I wrote a little musing about it, basically same things that we’ve discussed here, in case you’d be interested…

      And yet another great point — can we find nationally specific, “original” forms of digi communities, or are the forms they shape global, albeit the participants, the issues might be hyperlocal?

  10. Digital media and online communities have an essential role in impacting and changing the social and economic systems in China. In fact, Internet and digital media have revolutionized the public expression of opinion and enabled users to organize, protest and influence the public opinion – though still limited by the censorship of the state.

    The power of the internet regarding social change and online activism change in China has been analyzed for example in Guobin Yang’s book “The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online”. There are (and have been) several online campaigns, online protests and websites in China that fight for example against social and political injustice and for the environment (pointed out by Yang among others).

    As I pointed out last week in the Google Doc, Chinese microblogs (weibos) are used by journalists and netizens to share and receive information that is not available through mainstream media due to state control. Therefore, it can be said that this entire community of netizens act against injustice in China – although it is not a single campaign limited by topic or time.

    Other types of digital media are also used by Chinese netizens in this sense. For example during and after the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, netizens actively shared information in different online communities, such as Tiayana, one of China’s most popular online discussion forums. These online communities already existed before the earthquake; therefore they didn’t develop as such to aid in a humanitarian issue, but evolved to act as online humanitarianism.

    Although the “Great Firewall of China” censors and restricts access to online information, people have found ways to challenge the firewall for example by creating campaigns that use irony, satire and parody (sometimes referred to as “virtual graffiti”). These campaigns include the Empty Chair Campaign, where an activist encouraged his social media friends and followers to post a picture of an empty chair in order to raise awareness of the injustice that Liu Xiabao, the Nobel Peace Prize 2010 Winner, had faced. Soon, the phrase “empty chair” became banned. There are other similar online campaigns (Dark Glasses Campaign, the Ai Wei Wei support campaigns) that work against social injustice in a humorous way.

    In addition to these, here are some other examples of digital communities or platforms that I managed to find suiting the “helper’s role”. The prior is an example of raising awareness and understanding – similar to many other forms of Chinese online activism. The latter has a more “concrete” purpose. Although there is a whole lot more out there, it is a bit tricky to track them down not knowing Chinese at all.

    1. China Strikes ( The purpose of this platform is to gather information about strikes and protests of Chinese workers done to defend their rights and interests. The aim is that China Strikes serves as a resource for better understanding and support for the labor movement and working class people in China. It is based on the Ushahidi mapping tool.

    2. An online platform that engages the public in urban transport planning, also based on the Ushahidi mapping tool. It allows anyone to report issues on cycling and walking infrastructure in Beijing. The aim is to help the Beijing transport planners to improve urban transport conditions, making them safer and more accessible. (I didn’t find the name or address of this platform, this is based on news articles.)

    All in all, seems like there’s a lot going on in China related to this topic (even too much to go through in a blog comment).

  11. Here’s the direct link to the China Strikes:

    • And I’d still like to add the “In the Hepatitis B Camp” which is a big online forum for hepatitis B carriers in China. Here’s info in English:, the actual site is (in Chinese).

      • Excellent work here. Thank you for choosing such an array of compelling examples that illustrate how civil society works online in China, under quite challenging conditions. You also made me think about our platform wordpress — which is open source — and which has offered (been developed for) Chinese bloggers more security and opportunities. And the amazing power of viral culture and humour:

  12. Sweden situates as one of the leading countries in computer use and Internet penetration.Also, internet access is offered equally and about 86 percent of people have computer device. However, there is digital divide and internet users mostly include young people, men and more educated citizens. on one hand audience participation and public commentaries are increasing on online news. And new digital media have provided people with the opportunity of to be more active and have reflections on news, they are not only readers anymore, but also producer of discussions, unlike the traditional news media. Nevertheless, the online news are mostly used by youth. participation of audience is a significant factor that is considered by news organizations. For instance, Aftonbladet (a tabloid) listed 34 separate mechanisms for user participation on its site.
    in terms of user generated content, blogs an social media are used mostly for this purpose which is mostly personal , not activities related to social events. the peak of usage of social media is during the national elections that i think is mostly related to the subject of incoming weeks 🙂
    All in all, the flow of news and information has been increased in Sweden as a result of digitization. On the other hand, it is controversial that participation and deliberation are now more democratic by digital media. The other significant issues is that digital media help minorities to stay informed about their home country. as can be seen, public expression is a result of expanding digital communities in Sweden as well as many other countries. But, the most usage of new media and their implication remain challenging in Sweden, since the most of the usage is based on individual usages.

  13. i would like to address the role of social media for immigrants to stay connected to their home country. For instance, shaping different digital communities in social media such as facebook. is American Women’s Club of Gothenburg. The friendly online community for English-speaking mums in Sweden :
    Swots is a project born essentially to create an online space where people can interact, communicate, exchange ideas and help all all the immigrants in Sweden to interact and to integrate easily in/with the Swedish society.

    • Great examples — and an interesting match to Itir’s post (guidelines to authorities and citizens/immigrant communities on e-participation). Shirky’s idea is that much of what motivates sharing is — fun. Pleasure. The warm and fuzzy feeling of receiving attention frm the like-minded, of belonging, and of helping (a very different view form the ‘protective we’). I’d be very interested in your thoughts on how more community/interest-driven organizing around immigrant communities differs from the more ‘officially’ guided and organized — or does it? Are the political potentials the same? (Did I make sense with this question? I tried…)

  14. As previously mentioned, the US has some of the most cited examples of ‘digital helpers’, so I’ve tried to find a couple that you might not have heard of.

    I’m a big fan of open wireless networks and so is They are a non-profit organization that promotes free, public wireless Internet access in parks, public spaces, and affordable housing residences in New York City and the surrounding areas. All you have to do is create an account, pay a $35 membership or give a donation and you’re free to use all of their wifi hotspots. Community members are encouraged to “light up” public spaces and under-served communities by setting up their own open networks. I think this is a wonderful example of how an online community can help develop the physical infrastructure required to improve networks.

    I know it’s not the US, but I really wanted to mention freecyle ( This is a fantastic organisation that proves that one persons trash is another persons treasure. Freecycle matches people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them. You can post either if you want something or if you have something to give away. The site encourages people to share unwanted goods in an eco-friendly manner, as well as promoting ‘community involvement’. They started up in 2003 and I used it to get a lot of my furniture when I lived in London. There are now 540 groups spread across the UK, with 2,490,981 members and it’s starting to appear in other countries such as Australia and Germany.

    I’m going to have a look for a few more and will post again tomorrow 🙂

    • Open source, open access are crucial issues — and somehow in a gray area, as they are both ‘helpful’ as well as resisting commercial corporatist culture. As is freecycle…. Thank you for these examples… I see an interesting continuum emerging between helpers and dissidents… And find the conscious collaborative consumption movement wonderful and fascinating (not so fitting to the U.S. consumption-oriented economy though 😉

    • Another interesting example of this ‘helper’ concept was in the news earlier this week:

      The UN has turned to the online game ‘Minecraft’ to help regenerate some of the poorest regions in the world. The programme allows residents to help decide how their local areas will be adapted and grow.

      Here’s the story if you’re interested:

    • Hi Chris, you mentioned nycwireless… If you remember on that other course I mentioned 😉

      Also, a good example of communities as helpers in the US, that is becoming more and more popular, is

      PS: if you are interested in communities as helpers in the music world, you should check

      • Yeah, I remember you mentioning that site Yannick. I think it’s such an important issue in the whole ‘digital divide’ debate and organisations like the one you mentioned are pivotal in providing a level playing field for access to the net.

        I got the new iphone yesterday and one of my favourite features is the ‘personal hotspot’. This allows you to share you’re internet connection with other people/devices. Amazing!

    • Btw, NYCwireless was one important example the Estonian activists studied to cover the whole country with wireless access. Here’s the story how they did it:
      Quite quickly, internet (and mostly free-of-charge wireless internet) became like a human right for Estonians 😉 Today, all the most important governmental services are also online:
      The Guardian also covered this “success story” recently:

      • Interesting! It would make an interesting study: How digital helpers / dissidents find inspiration and from where…

      • And not only helpers, also governments… Could e-participation be an export item?

      • Yes, it is one of the main export items of Estonia. Not yet in the economic sense, but most definitely on the political level. It is even the horizontal theme of Estonian development cooperation. A lot of good work in this regard is done by the e-Governance Adacemy ( – they have trained and advised governmental officials in more than 40 countries around the world on the topic of public sector ICT development. See a short interview with their board member Ivar Tallo here:

  15. Digital humanitarianism seems like the perfect thing for modern, cool and well-informed people of the world who simply have waited for a good way of helping those less well-of and in need. Or no, they haven’t waited, they have organized think-thanks and innovation seminars that have then eventually come up with new tools for digital humanitarian aid. Yes yes, it is all very good, but it just somehow seems too good to be true.

    It is true that the digital fundraising and especially platforms for catastrophe information sharing have had positive and large effects on their target groups. But I think the public communications manager for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Paul Conneally, points out the thing that bugged me too: for humanitarian aid to fully use all the potential that digitalization can give, small scale digital efforts are just a start. ( Connelly says there are new ways to influence and this needs to be taken into account in the humanitarian structures and models: “The collective voices of people need to be more integrated through new technologies into the organizational strategies and plans of actions, and not just recycle for fundraising and marketing.” He says we need to integrate the new technologies in the entire structure of humanitarian aid and take it into account already when planning and use big data available from the market leaders “We need technology as a core organizational principle.”

    Coming back to average Joes, raising money is certainly easier online – if anything, Josh Groban fans collecting 150,000 dollars for African children is proof of that (Shirky). But in order to get people interested and make them help in this “global village” of ours is not that simple. This comes close to what we and Shirky have discussed about participation – we have the tools, yes, but do we have enough motivation? On a further note, I totally agree with Petja that digital humanitarianism is somewhat dangerous in that it can give that false feeling of helping and making a big difference even when these don’t happen.

    Like all over Europe, the economic slowdown has affected Poles’ willingness to participate in humanitarian aid. For example study from 2010 shows that in 2006, 93% of Poles thought it is important that the EU funds humanitarian aid activities outside its borders, whereas in 2010 the percentage had dropped to 79. Nevertheless, officially Poland was the 24th largest donor of official humanitarian aid in 2010. Still, it is very difficult to find examples of digital humanitarianism in Poland. Sure, there are lots of actions done by the government (,Aid,160.html), such as the Network on Humanitarian Activism (NOHA) bringing together several universities around Europe. Polish organizations are taking part in European or International projects, but I couldn’t really find any examples that would represent independent , “original” digital humanitarianism that was “born online” and not just using online tools as they are now available. Whether this is the fault of my non-existing skills in Polish or actual lack of initiatives, because of this failure I’m going to map some Polish humanitarian acts gone digital. If there are any Polish in this group or just people who happen to know Polish examples, a frustrated googler would be happy to learn more!

    One thing that keeps popping up in my search is digital activism for freedom of speech: especially Polish online activism against ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. In the beginning of 2012, the Polish Government was favor of the agreement, which arose multiple Facebook groups, blog-responses and online appeals that were against the decision – but this might be a better example for next week. Some organizations that could be considered as conducting digital humanitarianism is the Polish Humanitarian Action, PAH ( Polish Humanitarian Action is a non-governmental organization that was funded 20 years ago. Today the focus of their actions has more and more turned towards the online community via online donations and online shopping of which the money goes to a good cause (a nice way to organize humanitarian aid in the capitalist world, shopping). They raise money to provide help in areas like Southern Sudan or Palestine.

    • As I noted earlier, Kaisa, a much-needed voice of skepticism here. Your comment made me think whether our notion of the McLuhanian global village is still very, very imperialist. I’m also thinking here about the Western scholarly fascination of ‘innovative’ use of technologies by developing countries.

      That aside, thank you for bring up ACTA and Poland. This is one of my favourite pictures about the use of symbolism in digital advocacy and activism (a nice brindge to next week’s dissidents):

      • Yep, that was my favorite too. And coming back to my pessimism: as many of us here seem to think digital humanitarianism is a cool thing that really works, would be interesting to hear how many of us have actually participated in these kinds of initiatives and what kind of actual benefit those who did thought it brought. I can now say I clicked the green spot on the wooden puppet’s stomach (this part of my story seems to have dropped from my comment probably due to the difficulties I had posting it, but nevertheless here is one of PAH’s campaigns where one is supposed to click the stomach of a wooden doll and each click is turned into money for malnourished children in Poland and elsewhere, an English explanation here but how much humanitarian aid that really was compared to the danger of myself now feeling I’ve helped and so “done enough” is an important question.

        Furthermore, some of us with countries like Poland, Lebanon and Japan have showed that when we don’t find exact examples of digital humanitarianism we tend to think it’s because we don’t know the local language and therefore merely can’t find all the intriguing and innovative initiatives that surely exist. Is this a sign of differences between countries/cultures or our false positivism or does it prove digital humanitarianism is very local and/or temporary?

  16. As Shirky says, “social motivations can drive for more participation than ran personal motivations alone” and “all groups have an emotional component”. I think, those two quotes can describe my personal opinion about social networks in general and digital humanitarianism in particular in a very good way.

    So what do you do with your emotions and the intertwined social motivation? Build up a community, for example. I do not know the reasons (but I will find out!!), but in Germany there are not many good known communities. One of the most prominent groups nowadays are the enemies of “Stuttgart 21″, a modern and way too expensive new central station, for what a lot of nature had and still has to be destroyed. There were big protests in the streets and the police was very very cruel and violent. Pictures of bleeding, crying and screaming people were sent to the German television for weeks. But the protests were “real”, not only virtual. Ironically the supporters of “Stuttgart 21″ created an homepage ( in order to coordinate people and to inform them about recent developments.

    I think, Germany is a more passive country regarding the digital social networks, but still we are very interesting in what is going on and we talk a lot about it. Two years ago, there was a huge discussion on the PhD-Thesis of former Minister of Defence, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He was accused of plagiarism in his subsequently-revoked doctoral thesis which led to his resignation as Minister of Defence. But on Facebook, almost 750.000 users followed the two big groups that were defending him.

    Also a passive, but very effective way is the following example: (the text is in Germany but the video in English – you’ll get the idea)

    This and other videos like that were a huge hit on youtube and Facebook, you could say a viral success. And isn’t sharing and talking about a certain happening also building a community – even if it is not the actual idea of a community and our topic.

    Although, it is not a community (not yet), I would also like to introduce the start-up by a friend of mine: Coffee Circle:

    Here, you can purchase fair-traded coffee. Maybe not a new idea at all, but I really like and support the concept and the idea of the three founders. They wanted to create something “good” and within their team you can see both: effectiveness and satisfaction (cf. Shirky). Now, they have a little team and they are extremely increasing their business, also with the help of their presence on Facebook. And they kind of want to change something in the society, want the people to think about their consumption. And I think, without the Internet, this business would have never been developed.

    Finally, I want to show you the “save as wwf”-idea. A digital format, that is not printable. It was invented by a German advertising agency and a lot of companies but also private people downloaded the software and state that in their e-Mails. Is this a way of civic sharing in order to change something?

    • Julian! Brilliant examples here — I’m learning so much from y’all. LOVED the Robbenkiller video. It reminded me of the notion by many activism scholars that for the most effective form of activism, you need on- and offline. True commitment is a composition of them both. Usually, mobilization first happens online (you train station example), action offline. (More about that in the Anon documentary.) The Robbenkiller was a great example of how documentation/witnessing of activism continues keeps the ball rolling.

      I also greatly appreciate your fair trade example. Social entrepreneurship is something we haven’t discussed, but very much related to our topic. (Not only the new helpers bu the new heroes? Perhaps more on 11.12.

  17. Alright, Lebanon.

    I’d like to add to the discussion that most digital communities are temporary and thus use existing platforms. Here is a great example of people reacting to real life situation using digital tools:

    (A Twitter status promoting Facebook event to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Someone from Syria was wondering on Twitter why the world makes such a big fuss about the country losing Internet access ( while no one speaks about the daily massacres anymore.)

    Lebanon recently opened a virtual museum of censorship: However, I was looking at some of the Anonymous Twitter feeds for Lebanon, and found a hashtag #FreePierre which was, fittingly, a free speech case (Pierre was just released, from what I heard, so I didn’t dig deeper in finding out about the case. Dissidents are anyway the topic for the next week.)

    Okay, so I found nothing stunning from the helper perspective but I’ve Google Translated enough Arabic for today 🙂

    To conclude, for some reason I consider digital communities as helpers only in the sense of them representing someone in power struggles. This is particularly clear when looking at a country such as Lebanon, with very broad cultural backgrounds. Even the nice (read: nothing to do with Israel/Palestine or Syria) examples, such as an uproar to ban an Egyptian circus due to animal mistreatment, are clearly lobbing a point. These communities are formed typically on existing platforms such as Facebook.

    • Lebanon, that haven in the middle of turmoil — things are relative, aren’t they? 😉

      “[F]or some reason I consider digital communities as helpers only in the sense of them representing someone in power struggles.”

      I can see how that is probably the norm in terms of Lebanon, but I’d love to hear more about your thesis — especially given all the good rap crisis mappers, and voluntary research cohorts tackling big data, are getting nowadays. I viewed them as concrete ‘helpers’, as in talkoot

      But we’d love a dose of skepticism… can you elaborate?

  18. As a mentioned last week, the penetration of internet in Peru is quite low (14%) but increasing. The report depicted different cases of uses of social media and communities to encourage cultural activities, online diasporic communities, production of information and news, political debate, social campaign and even looking for partners.

    Two very popular online humanitarian initiatives were mentioned in the report. One in May 2009, when the blog “El Higado de Aquiles” (Aquiles’ liver) mobilize people to help Peruvian children who were dying of cold due to the extreme weather conditions. This brought attention from the mainstream media which allowed the news to be spread it and generate efficient support mechanism. The second initiative is named “Tuiterton” (this word is a combination of two words Twitter and marathon), it supports social causes. The last activity they organise according to the report was December 2010 and consisted of organising a fellow party to support a children community with educational material.

    In Peru, traditional media is the principal way people reach news and information. Then the online communities as “helpers” are looking for media attention to became popular and spread helping initiatives around the country. At the same time, the online version of the newspaper “El Comercio” (most visit newspaper online) offers a section named “Reportube” in this section pictures, twits and video taken from regular people are posted in the newspaper page. I checked the online version of the newspaper and I found quiet difficult to reach the section straightforward (The newspaper is in Spanish – my mother tongue language). In that section people are reporting or sending picture mostly of road accidents, at least in the online version of the newspaper from yesterday and today. It might be pretty interesting to check how citizen are reporting natural disaster or helping initiative through it.

    In my opinion, still now it is very common that digital communities are looking for the attention of the mainstream media, not just to spread news into the national sphere, also into the global sphere. Some helping campaigns also used the images of famous or popular people to catch more attention and to generate compassion and action. I particularly remember this campaign at the beginning of this year I first saw the campaign on BBC and also the guardian reported it Of course we could find many other examples. It might be interesting to research when famous people use their popularity to engage people into humanitarian campaigns online and in life. Perhaps, Princess Diana started it.

    • Right on: “It is very common that digital communities are looking for the attention of the mainstream media.” Good examples of that re: Peru. Research seems to indicate that few online communities ‘live’, and can make a difference, in one platform alone.

      Good point about Princess Diana, too. Celebrity activism, on and off-line is in the rise. Here’s activist-researcher Sarah Kenzior’s account of the American reality:

  19. Activist from “pre-digital” time could possibly be disappointed that they could never help everyone. But in digital age and with a growing number of fascinating technologies we could help everyone. At least we could identify very quickly who and where need a help.

    As Shrinky noted, before there was no public source where people can go to locate trouble spots, either to understand what’s going on or offer help. As we can see now, a lot of online platforms were created for reporting about crisis in a “hot” spots. What is more, people could not only report about something, but also take active participation in solving problems, donating money, etc.

    However, a lot of skeptics argue that people more active in slacktivism or clicktivism than real in activism and participation. Nevertheless, Paul Conneally in his TEDTalks speech demonstrates very well how people could collaborate and create something different, something that really helps people around the world. It is an inspiring case. Moreover, as we could see from various examples of Minna and my colleges, it will work, even if a lot of people still just clicking.

    I know that it could be a little different from our topic, but I think that it could help us to understand how digital tools could become “helpers” (not only in crisis situation or charity projects). The emergence of such discipline as “Digital Humanities” is show that digital technologies will soon become the main “helpers” all around the world. Patrik Svensson mentioned that “digital humanities” field is “an inclusive notion that will allow us to talk about different kinds of initiatives and activities in the intersection between the humanities and information technology or the digital.” More details in his article “The Landscape of Digital Humanities”
    As I understood, digital humanities as a field of study try to combine traditional humanitarian knowledge and researches with digital technology. This could help to discover new ways to solve various human problems.

    Quoting Shrinky again, “our social media tools aren’t an alternative to real life, they are part of it”. And we should take all advantages from social media and digital technologies for making this world better. All we need for this are desire and active participation. In support to this thought – an interesting platform that I found “Digital Humanitarian Network” ( As they wrote, the aim of this network-of-networks is to form a consortium of Volunteer & Technical Communities (V&TCs) and to provide an interface between formal, professional humanitarian organizations and informal yet skilled-and-agile volunteer & technical networks. Except organizations that directly help people, such platform unites different projects and organization that could be useful in creating new tools or platforms for solving particular problem.

    The examples of members:
    Humanity road: their mission is to educate the public before, during and after disasters on how to survive, sustain and reunite with loved ones. In 2010, Humanity Road responded to events in 33 U.S. states and territories and 73 events worldwide.
    Statistics Without Borders: an apolitical organization comprised entirely of volunteers, that provides pro bono statistical consulting and assistance to organizations and government agencies in support of these organizations’ not-for-profit efforts to deal with international health issues.

    As we can see, new media and digital technologies have future in helping people not only in crisis situation, but also in a lot of other more “simple” human problems. Besides clicktivists and slacktivist, many people really taking part in building new communities and networks aimed to help people.

    P.S. A little bit latter I’ll post examples from “my” country. Still searching…

    • Georgia is not among countries that build online communities with the aim to help others. First of all, only urban population connected to the Interned. Secondly, this country just steps on a way of digitalization.
      Still, there are few examples of digital activism where people tried to help other or community at all.

      In “Mapping digital media” country report researchers conclude that online platforms serve as an important source of information for those actively involved in civic activism and as such play a key role in mobilizations. The active civic core gets organized online and then takes the issue further, to the unwired parts of the population. Notably, in Georgia, digital mobilizations predate the boom of social networks: served as a platform for civic activism years before Facebook took off in Georgia.

      Facebook was a platform for such events as:
      1) The most famous blogger on the RFE/RL website organized digital fundraising. Ms. Antadze has raised funds for a family with a small child who became homeless after a fire destroyed the temporary shelter they were living in. The campaign Ms Antadze initiated via her blog resulted in the family finding a new dwelling. Ms Antadze also used her Facebook account to promote the fundraising campaign and the social network became an additional tool for mobilizing individual donors.
      2) Facebook campaign Save Mziuri. A protest against building a highway connecting two parts of the capital city, which would run through a city park. In September 2009, a team of volunteers started online protests and launched a group, Save Mziuri, that later moved offline, demanding justification for and transparency of the highway construction project.
      3) In May 2011 Facebook was used to mobilize protesters against police brutality; the protest was called in response to the violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration. Protest had been taking place in front of the Parliament building. Many people, who expressed their reaction via Facebook, starting an impromptu campaign that culminated in the decision to hold a peaceful protest on 27 May on the city’s main street, Rustaveli Avenue. This spontaneous effort brought at least 3,000 people onto the street.
      4) “Stop Destroying Gudiashvili” campaign, a protest against the Tbilisi city government’s plan to rebuild one of the city’s old squares Gudiashvili Square. The weekly calls for mobilization and dissemination of related information go through the Facebook page and the blog.

      • Svitlana: You’ve done a double duty this week. Certainly, digital technologies can be utilized for humanitarian causes, as they can assist and re-define journalism, and sometimes the 2 even coincide:

        Your post also reminded me of the practical challenges… Technology can be used, but at what other costs? This from the The World Economic Forum’s recent Global Agenda Council document that notes some of the opportunities/challenges:
        1) Rethinking infrastructure: With current traffic and technology adoption patterns, many urban networks will be soon stretched beyond capacity, with a knock-on effect on the availability of access in rural areas…
        2) Scaling relevant applications: A range of applications relevant to the target audience will increase the desirability of mobile devices. 300 million fewer women than men have mobile phone subscriptions, so applications relevant to the interests of women are vital.
        3) Delivering affordable solutions: Affordability is a key requirement to ensure access to mobile solutions. (…)

        As to your examples, my biggest general takeaway was the FB as a mobilizer (vs. twitter as an info channel/source) — everyone, is it o so and if, why?

  20. Shirky’s example of the singer Josh Groban seems to be the antecedent, the first ‘version’ of projects such as Pledge ( Even though Pledge is a bit different from Groban story, it reminded me of it.

    I also like the part in which Shirky discusses the role of motivation vs money. I think that motivation is what usually stays at the very base of each community, no matter what people, topics or areas of interest it concerns. Motivation is what can trigger participation, ultimately bringing along social engagement and actions.

    Initially, I was a bit skeptical about finding good examples of communities as helpers in Japan, because while reading the media report about the country I noticed that a rather low participation in politics by ordinary citizens was mentioned. Therefore, I thought ‘oh-oh, I probably won’t find good example of communities as helpers’… well, I was totally wrong!

    I present you two cases:

    1) campfire ( do to the different characters of Japanese language I wasn’t able to understand directly from the website, but I found useful info about it here ( Simply put, Campfire is the Japanese version of

    2) safecast ( It is a global network for collecting and sharing radiation measurements. Even though it is global, it was launched one week after the Japanese earthquake of March 2011. The organization is a voluntary-driven and it is non-profit.

    I think that the word ‘voluntary’ here is a key concept, because it calls for Shirky’s discussion on motivation. What I mean here is: why do a person decide to do some voluntary action, such as collaborating with projects such as safecast? After all, he or she won’t get a nickel out of his/her contribution, so why bother? Motivation people, that is the (very powerful force) that can lead people to participate into a community’s activity.

    Unfortunately me not knowing Japanese has made it more difficult to find more examples of Japanese communities as helpers… :/

    • Yann — a dramatic turnaround re: your views on Japan. Can’t wait what you will find out this week about dissident culture. The case of Japan, and our notion (stereotype?) of its very distinct national/civic/political culture made me also (once again) wonder about territories, nations, ethnic and civic nationality in the digital media era. How much remains? How much even governs our online interaction (beyond infrastructure and such concerns, or language…)

  21. Digital Humanitarianism – Issues and Peculiarities in Africa.

    As we speak to digital helpers and African-specific issues of development, there is a convergence in philosophies of development and ‘helping.’ There is quite an interesting discourse related specifically to humanitarianism in Africa, particularly nation- states rich in resources. Nigeria is a great example of a country with just this blessing/curse of resource endowment.

    As we pull apart the idea of Shirky’s intrinsic motivation, we see a phenomenon that is bringing individual social values and passions into the public arena. Through new media these voices discover one another and connect and build momentum for whatever cause of belief a group of individuals espouse. This makes an inherently online process an instigator for real change, as these online communities can reach deeper, and connect across all established, real-world demographics. It is this ability to effectively disseminate information through various networks that adds credence and influence to the communication.

    While I was volunteering for six months in Malawi, Africa in 1999, digital humanitarianism did not exist and the traditional forms of development were the only source of aid for those in need of support. Certainly there is a broader debate about western presence in Africa and the impact of 70 years of this ‘development’, but as we look forward towards digital humanitarianism, we see opportunity for this classically top-down process to become increasingly inclusive due to digital participation from stakeholders inside the country, from those actually being affected by the circumstances on the ground. Never before has this constituency been more able to engage in the process of collaborative development and make their voices heard to necessarily nuance and subjectify the conversation.

    This phenomenon of public participation brought on through the advent of new media has important implications for the established forms of international development. These traditional modes of aid have, in the past twenty years in particular, come under increasing scrutiny and incurred more frequent and intense rebuke.

    Here is a fascinating piece by one of the eminent social issues writers of our time, Philip Gourevitch. He wrote one of the most captivating treatise on the Rwandan genocide: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. Gourevitch, in the following piece about development, discusses a major dialectic within development discourse and that is the idea of it circular, reinforcing nature. Also discussed is the corruption of international aid and the ramifications for those it intends to help. A quote from this article that I found intriguing was from the former head of UN refugee agency, Sadako Ogata who stated that “There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems.”

    We are at the intersection of a fascinating time for international development, as technology and communications have opened the process of sharing ideas and strategies, there is significant potential for new and much needed incarnations to be brought forth.

    As Paul Conneally states in his TEDtalk on digital humanitarianism:

    “technology is transformational throughout the developing world -citizens and communities are using technology to enable them to bring about positive change in their own communities, the grassroots are being strengthened by social power of sharing and challenging the old models of control and command.”

    It is our out-dated, unaccountable, analog models that held little relevance to the people on ground, and ultimately reproduced conditions on the ground that built the existing dependency we see in global dynamics today. Tools likeopen source sms tools are being used by red cross in Nigeria that make some of the most important work, in this case, about understanding and mitigating malaria 10 times faster and 10 times cheaper than traditional methods.

    Empowering to communities and information stays in the community to help influence longer term health policies is the change that is needed. The intention of development is the betterment of others, not the reinforcing of existing power structures. The momentum to move back to this ideal and practical process of development has truly begun with the proliferation of mobile technology (Globally there 5 billion mobile subscriptions).

    It should be noted that this process and evolution clashes with the capitalist ethic of NGOs today. What I mean is that the International Development Industry, as it were, is capitalistic and wants to grow, to build deeper organizations, employ more people, provide more programs. As information is diffused, and access to necessary tools are gained and ultimately accountability becomes a part of the development equation, power is also diffused to the many, and the economics change. How will the development world respond as it becomes less able to control the flow of aid in all senses of the world?

    Again, much like in journalism, the business model for development must adapt to ensure the right decisions are made for those in need. Interesting times are ahead.

    • Matt: You nailed it. An important discussion. Not only advocacy, but activism, is becoming big business. Great related remarks by Kaisa, too. Non- and for-profit mix on ‘free’ platforms as well. Can global platforms/service providers afford to *not* comply with demands from, say, repressive dictatorial governments?

      But interesting times for Africa. Here’s what the New School prof Sean Jacobs just blogged (related stories in the Economist, too):

  22. Sorry for a delayed response! I’ve been traveling during the past two weeks with very limited access to the internet (digital divide in real life!), which I didn’t expect. I see that you’ve had a very good debate here and I definitely see that digital divide and access are definitely also the key concepts in the case of Moldovan online activism. Only a third of the population in Moldova has access to the internet and it is mostly in the urban areas. If we think of the usage of internet, we can see that only a fifth of internet users (less than 7% of total population) also use it for Facebook. Facebook is not the only or even main indicator, but it definitely shows something. Blogs are a much more widely used tool for online activism in Moldova as was evident during the 2009 elections (very good coverage of the events here:, includes references to the role of blogs and Twitter), but I think they are better for creating dialogue than organizing the crowds for concrete actions.

    I hope to have better access to the internet myself next week and I’ll then also comment on your posts.

    • No worries — jump right back in!

      • How quickly, do you think, the digital divide is narrowing — or is it? And what is the role of trad. public media? I’m very interested in democracies in transition and the ways in which old public media models are being imported (and the great skepticism against public media platforms — as they’re associated with state media). I know there are some attempts to create networked models of public media, incl. mobile services, that could be serving populations with simplest sms communication skills/tech (see the Red Cross video).

      • The speed of eliminating the digital divide is probably dependent on many things like infrastructure (access to electricity and computers), geography (size and topography of the country), politics (i.e. dictatorship in Belarus) and economy (i.e. if people can afford the ICT services). It seems to me that many developing countries’ governments (incl. Eastern Europe) have realized the economic and social potential of connecting their people to the digital world and in many cases it’s just the question of where to find resources to implement that policy.

      • I’ll also add some information about “my country” Moldova.

        Most notably, Moldova’s „Twitter revolution“ attracted world-wide attention after the presidential elections on April 5, 2009. Lysenko & Desouza (2011) studied which roles Internet-based and cellular ICTs played in the preparation, ignition, street protests, and the post-protests information war in the Moldovan revolution. They concluded that:
        1) the protesters organized their initial mobilization through social networks and SMS;
        2) Twitter was mostly used during later phases of the revolution – the active street protests and the subsequent information war – for communication about the conflict both locally and globally; and
        3) through skillful use of new Internet-based ICTs, it is possible to conduct a successful revolution without noticeable prior offline organization.

        An interesting example of online activism is – a crowdsourcing platform approved by the mayor of Chisinau as an official solution for tracking and solving social issues. Problems reported 1124, solved ~42%.

  23. As already mentioned in the mapping digital media report of ‘my country’, though there is a rapid increase and popularity of the internet, it is not being utilized by citizens and social groups in Albania for ‘social activism’. This is still applicable up to this period as I spent several hours searching through the web for online communities in Albania that had at least been utilized as a ‘helper’ in any way. But unfortunately, no concrete forum or site gives me this result.

    However, as also stated in the report, political figures utilize social media and the internet in Albania to further gain popularity and support but only a small percentage of Albanians regard this strategy as effective. Meanwhile, I have learned that the Prime Minister had actually initially announced his support of the gay-marriage in 2009, which is of course can be considered odd since Albania is a predominantly Muslim country. But then, during the declaration of the law in 2010, this was revised to just the protection of gay rights in the country which only includes provisions against gay discrimination and not at all includes same-sex marriage.

    I would say then that the internet could have at least played a great role on this event as there are several news and commentaries about the initial plan. Report such as this: could have been helpful in spreading the news to the world thus creating criticisms such as These can be considered contributory factors in the revision of the original plan.

    • Marie: What a news item to discuss… I was fascinated by the Youtube clip — and its comments. The problem with pluralism of the Internet is, I suppose, that it’s messy and there are unpleasant (from our perspective) voices — but a democratic media platform must tolerate much (if not all). But what an exchange of comments around this issue, on a global platform. (And what a turn-around in the policy-making…) Thank you for tackling this country that we know so little of.

  24. Clay Shirky introduced a lot of digital helpers in their first steps of their “career”. Most of them are pretty well known by now.
    Turkey is a very interesting case due to its political status, the conlicts between the citizens and the indirect censorship in most of its media, which include the infamous ban on YouTube.
    In Turkey, there is an ongoing problem that keeps on drugging for years, and this is the state controlled internet. Turkey has come to conflict even with Google and YouTube, when in 2007 banned the access to the famous service for some months, due to a viddeo that was insulting Kemal Atatürk, a hero of WWI and the founder of modern Turkey.For this reason, there seems to be a lot of movements against the state controlled internetsuch as the Internet without Censorship Movement (Sansürsüz İnternet,, the Cyber Rights Movement (, and the Censoring Censorship Movement (www. very good video that explains this movements are on this video .
    The movements in Turkey have more informative character. They are trying to awake people about their rights and to persuade them to participate.
    Another example of digital activism is Amargi, a group which advocates women’s, homosexual, and transgendered rights in Turkey. According to Burcu Şimşek (M.Sc., Ph.D.M.Sc., Research Assistant and Digital Storytelling Unit Coordinator, Department of Communication Sciences, Hacettepe University, Turkey) , Amargi uses digital storytelling as a means of enhacing women participation.
    Another example is Kaos GL, one of the primary groups seeking to promote human rights in Turkey, specifi cally the rights of homosexuals.

    An interesting case of crowsdfunding that I found is the Antalya laundry which seemed to be the first crowdfunding project. In the beginning of April 2012 the first self-service laundry of Turkey opened in the Kaleiçi, the old town of Antalya. Katjia, The owner had started this project to collect money in order to establish the first self-service laundrette in the town and she did it very well. You can read more about the project here.

    Also a lot of political and social protests utulized social media.
    Turkey doesn’t seem to be the country that citizens can start digital activism initiatives or digital helping. For example, in the Turkish earthquake, Google took the initiative to start the person finder. “Google has launched Person Finder there to aid the search for survivors. Person Finder allows individuals to create records for missing persons following natural disasters, or check the status of persons already on the database in the hope that they have been found alive. Any individual or organisation could update the database as they please”.

    Another case that I found was Turkcell’s crowdsourcing project Turkcell is one of the leading mobile providers in the country. This project helped to built two-story houses near Lake Van for the 192 teachers who were left homeless as well as a student dormitory with a capacity for 132 students.This was an SMS campaign and in the end 9.5 million Turkish liras were collected. Of course this was a more corporate social responsibility project but it shows the potential that the country can have if someone makes the begining.

  25. It is interesting to see that the examples that Shirky mentions are by now well known projects like kickstarter.
    Turkey is a very interesting case since of its political state, the conflicts between the citizens and the indirect censhorship of media.
    There is an ongoing problem that keeps on drugging for years, and this is the state controlled internet. Turkey has come to conflict even with Google and YouTube, when in 2007 banned the access to the famous service for some months, due to a viddeo that was insulting Atatürk, a hero of WWI and the founder of modern Turkey.For this reason, there seems to be a lot of movements against the state controlled internetsuch as the Internet without Censorship Movement (Sansürsüz İnternet,
    tr), the Cyber Rights Movement (, and the Censoring Censorship Movement (
    A very good video that explains this movements are on this video .

    The movements in Turkey have more informative character. They are trying to awake people about their rights and to persuade them to participate.
    Another example of digital activism is Amargi, a group which advocates women’s, homosexual, and transgendered rights in Turkey. According to Burcu Şimşek (M.Sc., Ph.D.M.Sc., Research Assistant and Digital Storytelling Unit Coordinator, Department of Communication Sciences, Hacettepe University, Turkey), Amargi uses digital storytelling as a means of enhacing women participation.
    Another example is Kaos GL, one of the primary groups seeking to promote human rights in Turkey, specifi cally the rights of homosexuals.

    An interesting case of crowsdfunding that I found is the Antalya laundry which seemed to be the first crowdfunding project. In the beginning of April 2012 the first self-service laundry of Turkey opened in the Kaleiçi, the old town of Antalya. Katjia, The owner had started this project to collect money in order to establish the first self-service laundrette in the town and she did it very well. You can read more about the project here.

    Also a lot of political and social protests utulized social media.

    Turkey doesn’t seem to be the country that citizens can promote digital activism initiatives or digital helping. For example, in the Turkish earthquake, google took the initiative to start the person finder. Αs it did with Haitι and Chille, “Google has launched Person Finder there to aid the search for survivors. Person Finder allows individuals to create records for missing persons following natural disasters, or check the status of persons already on the database in the hope that they have been found alive. Any individual or organisation could update the database as they please:.

    Another case that I found was Turkcell’s crowdsourcing project Turkcell is one of the leading mobile providers in the country. This project helped to built two-story houses near Lake Van for the 192 teachers who were left homeless as well as a student dormitory with a capacity for 132 students.This was an SMS campaign and in the end 9.5 million Turkish liras were collected. Of course this was a more corporate social responsibility project but it shows the potential that the country can have if someone makes the begining

    • A wide array of powerful examples — that I, too, found symptomatic of the complex political situation of Turkey; of vibrant political/intellectual young generation active in e-participation vs. more traditionally oriented political stances. Greta examples of helpers, too.

  26. I’m really sorry for posting this comment so late. I found a really interesting project called Demologue (, which may be helpful also for others mapping third-world countries. Their idea is to use the tools of the internet to aid the spread of democracy. The layout of the page is unfortunately quite horrible and it’s not active anymore but you’ll find plenty of resources and interesting projects still there. The former coordinator has a new site now which has a lot of interesting posts around Global Digital Activism. (

    In Thailand the online activism is quite weak because of the strict national laws. The Computer Crimes Act holds Internet service providers and website operators legally responsible for the activities of their users. People involved with running activist and opposition websites have been arrested. The lese majeste law is really strict in Thailand and for example Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, manager of Thai online news site Prachatai has been arrested for not removing comments on discussion boards. Premchaiporn is still waiting for the verdict and the case is being watched by international human rights groups and internet companies.

    A Thai blogger called Fringer ( found out that many are ready to take the first step from the three activities Shirky defines. The first step is information-sharing, such as uploading photographs or video clips. The second is cooperation and collaboration and the third, and most difficult, is to mobilize people to take collective action in the real world. This was obvious in the case of “Sniffer”. It was reported that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology had asked internet service providers to install software to monitor and report suspicious internet activity. The news spread through Twitter and Facebook which caused also a quick follow-up in the mainstream media. Finally the MICT gave in and withdrew the plan. Unfortunately I didn’t find information, who was the first one tweeting about the plan or creating the anti-sniffer Facebook page. But the blogger Fringer played a big role and was interviewed a lot and could be seen as a key player in the case.

    Also other cases from Thailand which I found are concerned with the freedom of speech. This makes the digital activism harder but also really interesting. Because of the limitations set by the Thai government, some active bloggers or activist are not living in Thailand. For example a member of the community Global Voices, Mong Palatino, has a lot of updates about Thailand even he is an activist and politician from the Philippines. (

    • Thailand — not a paradise in terms of FoE, as you note! A case study on digital dissidents….

      And yet, your finding is very interesting about expat dissidents who continue to report on their country actively. (I didn’t know that — but fascinating!) Dissidents in exile is not a new notion, but I’m wondering how the power of digital media changes these communicative power relations; how much organizing is happening across borders, digitally…

      PS: Nice use of Shirky in your comment.

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