Review: Ten Tactics For Turning Info Into Action

Tagged as: human_rights information info_activism
Neighbourhoods: bradford
Published by group: GroupIMC Northern England

On the evening of February 14th 2010, some people came to Bradford's 1in12 club to see one of a series of global screenings of Tactical Tech's "Ten Tactics" hosted by the Northern Indymedia Collective. I went because I thought I was probably an "info-activist," and so, like most political film-goers I've met, I wanted to be told more about myself and feel like part of a global movement. And I didn't have a Hallmark Holiday co-celebrant. This is what we thought about it.

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“Tactical Tech,” their website says, “is an international NGO helping human rights advocates use information, communications and digital technologies to maximise the impact of their advocacy work.” The opening caption told that 50 rights advocates around the world had been interviewed. Their stories had seemingly been sorted into ten themes ("Tactics") to simplify. This made sense; the DVD was presented in a smart package with a booklet exploring each tactic. The intended audience must be groups who want to discuss their use of digital communication technology. As a teaching resource, it was well-illustrated and clear. The primary language was English but as soon as I asked myself whether I was truly hearing voices to and from the Global South, I found that translations have been made by volunteers into many other tongues.

The context unfolded as info-activism was defined: it is when rights advocates use information as a primary asset for driving change. Most of what followed was inspiring and all of it provoked discussion afterwards.

Firstly we heard about using media to bring them to the action. An example was presented of using Facebook to signpost Lebanese Lesbian women to a website where they could organise. The organiser mentioned the difficulty with using privacy-free tools like Facebook to organise where repression is prevalent; had they made the mistake of creating a "group" on Facebook, it would have been easy to see that this was a women's group. Again in the case of the Pink Chaddi campaign in India, the limitations on group size on Facebook and the ease with which such things can be sabotaged were mentioned.

On to the tactic of witnessing and recording rights abuses, in other words using your mobile phone/camera to record bad stuff then put it onto Youtube, in the hope that it'll get picked up by the mainstream media, then the government will make everything nice again, right? Any mention of the privacy threats from YouTube or of the advantages of non-corporate internet video projects would have been welcome here. Failing to mention the Chomsky/Herman propaganda model was inexcusable.

Next, visualisation. Geo-tagging and use of layered maps to represent complex data sets; this was reiterated in the sections on how to use complex data  and investigate and expose (tagged images of the Tunisian presidential plane being used for shopping jaunts.) More interesting to me was the notion that animation can be used to make allegorical criticisms when direct ones are too dangerous, and the later section on humour as a way to deflate the pompous and overcome barriers between groups.

The section on amplifying personal stories was highly informative and included reference to the possibility of anonymising sources whilst retaining their credibility. An example given was of child soldiers in DRC. Video evidence was gathered primarily with the intention of persuading communities to resist attempts to recruit their children as state or rebel soldiers. It later gained a secondary use in preparing evidence for the International Criminal Court. It was ironic for them to fail to mention that [a] such inter-governmental organisations have yet to make a significant impact on the continuing conflict in DRC, and [b] that the conflict is partly fuelled by consumer demand for Coltan and other minerals used in making the mobile phones and miniature electronics which we were previously told were an important tool for change. The environmental impact of our info tools could have been mentioned too.

Managing your contacts could have been taken straight from an MBA course-book and live reporting was just a plug for twitter, significantly referring to "terror" attacks in Mumbai without mentioning that this was part of an ongoing conflict between two nuclear weapons states. Much more interesting was the section on people ask the questions, featuring uses of mobile comms to enable people to access information about how funds were being distributed amongst farming communities, revealing some irregularities that were then corrected.

After watching the film, it occured to me that not only is there too much to say about this to fit into 55 minutes - there is also much more to information activism that could be contained in a "rights" agenda. Rights only exist when there is an authority to grant them; the rights agenda assumes an ultimate authority (god, state or inter-governmental organisation) but information can extend way beyond all of these. I wondered why the DIY efforts of the 10-year-old Indymedia network and numerous grass-roots tech collectives got no mention.

I've no doubt that working for Human Rights is valuable (I do it) but its limitations are brought into focus at points like this, when we approach the conceptual horizon of the ideas that unperpin the grant of such rights. We are asking, who of us can actually afford and access digital communications? And when we do, how many of us are educated enough to use them? We're pretty sure that extending those sets are also legitimate forms of information activism. That makes 12.

Email Contact email: marker at indymedia dot org