Amnesty International has launched a campaign to amplify the voices of poor people around the world. Demand Dignity is an economic, cultural, and social rights campaign for the organization and the online platform, DemandDignity.org, was launched in May 2009. Since then, the site has collected 57,384 comments, or “voices,” from people around the world, via SMS, Twitter, and on the Demand Dignity website.
The campaign attempts to give a voice to people who are living in poverty or who have had their human rights violated, said Sarah Pyke, communications coordinator of the campaign. It enables people to be able to access their rights, hold their governments to account, and to be able to make their voices heard. These aims led to the creation of the DemandDignity.org platform, an interactive website where people can submit audio, video, or text reports and answer prompted questions such as What does living in dignity mean to you?
One response to this question, from Kenya, was, “living somewhere comfortably in terms of shelter, good health care and having sustainable education.”
MobileActive.org spoke with Pyke and with Shehzaad Shams, Project Coordinator for onnline communities and e-activism, to hear more about the platform and how it leverages mobile tech.
How It Works
Shams and Pyke said that Amnesty International wanted to make use of the latest technologies in terms of social media, specifically in how technology could be used to amplify voices. The DemandDignity.org platform itself is available in four languages — English, Arabic, French and Spanish — and “voices” can be submitted in any language.
The platform is integrated with SMS. Anyone can send an SMS to the UK-based number 447786 200220 to post a comment, though local operator charges apply. The platform is also integrated with Twitter — Tweets with the hashtag #demanddignity are fed into the site. Users can upload and embed photos and YouTube videos.
While the Demand Dignity team could have carried out the campaign in a commercial social network like Facebook, they chose not too. Instead, they built what they call a “house” social network in DemandDignity.org. In this way, the campaign could be kept in one place and could be platform or channel-independent.
On the site, messages can be sorted based on origin, including the Demand Dignity website, SMS, or Twitter. They can also be sorted by campaign (corporations, dignity, maternal mortality, rights law, slums, or open) and country of origin. People can remain anonymous on the website, (Amnesty provides five options for reasons why someone chooses to remain anonymous) though this hasn’t happened as much through mobile submissions, Shams said.
Focusing On A Specific Area: Nairobi Slums
A focused mission was carried out in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya. It was here that the team piloted SMS to web action for the first time. Amnesty International worked with a local mobile aggregator company, Data Impact, to establish a short code that was free for the user. The company managed the relationship and services with the local mobile operators. (See thisMobileActive.org article on working with mobile operators)
The mission in Kenya was a combination of online and off-line communication techniques: Amnesty International worked with 200 volunteers from a Nairobi-based community organization (mostly residents of Kibera). Over 9000 people from Kibera contributed content on human rights issues on the Demand Dignity platform.
People living in Kibera were provided with a free short code (3221) were asked to answer the question, What does living in dignity mean to me? From the SMS messages, responses were posted to DemandDignity.org. Messages were seen about 15 minutes after being sent.
The Framework: Mobile Plays a Role But What Is the On-The-Ground Effect?
Beyond the nuts and bolts of the web platform, there is theoretical framework behind the campaign.
The first idea is connecting the last mile. “We never expected poor people to log in to the Internet and submit their views and voices on dignity, because of literacy and access issues” Shams said. Instead, mobile technology reinforces this idea of appropriate and accessible connection. “We always wanted to use mobile as a key enabler to increase our outreach in countries where we don’t have any Amnesty presence,” Shams said. (Amnesty International currently has offices in more than 80 countries around the world.)
Another principle is the cycle of off-line to online and back again from online to off-line. Amplifying voices from the ground is straightforward and successful for Shams and his team. But, “that’s very much the half circle,” Shams said. “We need the other end of the circle. What happens from online to offline? How do we go back to these people, via SMS or traditional tools such as television or print media, and say, this is what the voices have said, this is what the people want, this is what Amnesty is doing, or this is what the government is doing.”
“That end is something we are still working on,” Shams said.“It’s very easy to ask people to take online action, which may or may not have any relationship with what’s going on on the ground.
Challenges for Demand Dignity
In Kenya, the team experienced a challenge familiar to other mobile-based projects for development: ownership of mobiles in the area was often shared. Another challenge was spamming and misuse of the system. In Kenya, the shortcode to send an SMS to the Demand Dignity platform was free to the user, and “that opened up a lot of spamming issues,” Shams said.
“The moment you give people the opportunity to express themselves to a wider platform with a brand like Amnesty, some people, without any intention of harm, start using it for their own purpose,” Shams said.
In terms of general moderation, Demand Dignity follows a community moderation process, after voices are posted. “It can not be pre-moderated. We do not have the capacity or the manpower. And it defeats the whole purpose of user-generate content,” Shams said. The site allows for people to flag offense comments; if the same content received three flags from three unique users, the content is removed from the site.
Another issue with the Demand Dignity campaign was defining languages. “We are based in London. When you starting receiving SMS in Swahili, what happens then? Who gets back to them or what do you do with it,” Shams said.
Also, because Demand Dignity does not literally reply to every voice that is collected, there is the threat that a user might lose interest in the platform. There is much in the pipeline for Demand Dignity. Audio is one next step. Shams said they are currently experimenting with Frontline SMS. Demand Digity is also working with Ipadio, which allows people to broadcast live to the web from a phone call.