Tag Archives: comm4dev

Folklore, Rumors & Misinformation Campaigns Interfering with Humanitarian Efforts & Government Initiatives

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Preventing Folklore, Rumors, Urban Myths & Organized Misinformation Campaigns From Interfering with Development & Aid/Relief Efforts & Government Initiatives

Folklore, rumors and contemporary myths / legends often interfere with development aid activities and government initiatives, including public health programs – even bringing such to a grinding halt. They create ongoing misunderstandings and mistrust, prevent people from seeking help, encourage people to engage in unhealthy and even dangerous practices, and have even lead to mobs of people attacking someone or others because of something they heard from a friend of a friend of a friend. With social media like Twitter and Facebook, as well as simple text messaging among cell phones, spreading misinformation is easier than ever.

Added to the mix: fake news sites set up specifically to mislead people, as well as crowdsourced efforts by professional online provocateurs and automated troll bots pumping out thousands of comments, countering misinformation efforts has to be a priority for aid and development organizations, as well as government agencies.

Since 2004, I have been gathering and sharing both examples of this phenomena, and recommendations on preventing folklore, rumors and urban myths from interfering with development and aid/relief efforts and government initiatives. I’ve recently updated this information with new information regarding countering organized misinformation campaigns.

Anyone working in development or relief efforts, or working in government organizations, needs to be aware of the power of rumor and myth-sharing, and be prepared to prevent and to counter such. This page is an effort to help those workers:

  • cultivate trust in the community through communications, thereby creating an environment less susceptible to rumor-baiting
  • quickly identify rumors and misinformation campaigns that have the potential to derail humanitarian aid and development efforts
  • quickly respond to rumors and misinformation campaigns that could derail or are interfering with humanitarian aid and development efforts

And, FYI: I do this entirely on my own, as a volunteer, with no funding from anyone. I update the information as my free time allows.

Also see:

The importance of Twitter lists

Twitter_logo_blueAs I said in a recent blog, called the awesome power of Tweet tags, I am still a huge fan of Twitter. As I said in that blog, I still get so much more out of Twitter than Facebook, professionally:

  • I get a great sense of what folks are doing in the areas of expertise and work I care about most
  • I can easily find and connect with amazing experts in areas of expertise and work in which I’m intensely interested
  • I can find what I’m looking for and easily screen out what I don’t care about
  • When I tweet, I get replies and retweets and even requests for more info – real engagement – as well as traffic to my blog and web site

Of course you should follow me on Twitter: @jcravens42

But you should also be aware of another way to leverage Twitter for your nonprofit, government or other mission-based organization or program: creating and sharing Twitter lists, where you curate accounts based on some aspect of your program’s mission or location. For instance:

  • an animal shelter should have a public Twitter list of other shelters and animal rescue groups in the area, and another list of accounts tweeting credible information regarding animal care and training
  • a small college or university should have a Twitter list of its own departments, faculty and students using Twitter to talk about their university work
  • a police department should have a Twitter list of other law enforcement agencies in the area and nearby, and another list of accounts by nonprofits addressing issues that contribute to crime prevention (homeless shelters, drug treatment centers, programs to help teens, etc.)
  • a city office should have a Twitter list of other city offices
  • a public school should have a Twitter list of registered nonprofits in the area focused on youth
  • a water and sanitation program in a developing country should have a Twitter list of similar programs in other countries, so staff can look for ideas they can use in their own area, and have a list of programs and organizations in-country that have funded or might fund the WATSAN program
  • an association of managers of volunteers should have a list of all of the nonprofits in the area with Twitter accounts, another list of all student groups at local colleges and universities in the area that regularly engage in public service, and another list of all civic groups in the area using Twitter.

Creating Twitter lists and sharing them with the public affirms an organization’s mission, establishes a program as a leader regarding that mission, creates valuable resources for people you are trying to serve, and creates another way for you to attract Twitter followers. It also makes it much easier for you to be able to check in with what’s happening with specific audiences – instead of following them all on Twitter, you put accounts on lists, and then read those lists when it’s time to catch up on a particular area of interest to you.

Here’s a good example: Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA) has several Twitter lists. One is made up of nonprofits in the greater Portland, Oregon area that tweet, a list of people tweeting about the management of volunteers, and a list of people and organizations that tweet about volunteerism and volunteer recruitment. By having such lists and sharing them with the public, NOVAA is helping promote its brand as an organization that can help organizations in the area, including nonprofits, schools and government agencies, regarding effective volunteer engagement. What would be great is if they also had a list of all public officials in the area, or that represent the area, that are on Twitter, so that they could easily follow what those people might be saying regarding volunteers and NOVAA members could more easily contact those representatives regarding volunteerism.

Here’s another good example: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, also in Portland, Oregon. One of its Twitter lists is of its partner organizations on Twitter. Another list is of organizations focused on helping people and families work towards financial stability. Like NOVAA, they also have compiled a list of nonprofits in the greater Portland, Oregon area that tweet. So UW is using its Twitter lists to both promote nonprofits in the area and help people in the area find the services at nonprofits they need – in short, they are using Twitter lists as a part of their mission to “improve lives, strengthen communities and advance equity by mobilizing the caring power of people across our metro area.”

Here’s how it works for me: I maintain several public Twitter lists – lists of people and organizations that regularly tweet about subjects of interest to me. These lists affirm my areas of expertise and my interests as a professional, help establish me as a leader regarding some of these areas, and create valuable resources for people and organizations with whom I want to connect in some way. It also cuts down on how many people I have to follow on Twitter;  instead, I can put people and organizations on various lists, by subject matter, geography, whatever, and then check in with those lists as I like. I pick one or two of my lists a day, and then spend a few minutes going through the tweets of that list.

For instance, there’s my Tech4Good ICT4D, a list of people and organizations that regularly tweet regarding computers and the Internet used to help people, communities and the environment. Or my ework evolunteer list, which tracks people and programs tweeting about telework, telecommuting, remote work, virtual teams, distributed teams, virtual volunteering, etc. Or my CSR  list, which is made up of corporations that tweet about their philanthropic and social responsibility activities, and people and organizations that tweet regarding corporate social responsibility. My several public Twitter lists become both ways to brand my interests and expertise as well as a way to offer resources that others might find useful.

Take Twitter to the next level: make it not only an outreach and engagement tool, make it something that promotes your program through the lists you curate!

Also see:

humanitarian stories & photos – use with caution

whitesaviorbarbieIf you are going abroad, particularly to developing countries, even just for vacation rather than a humanitarian mission, be really careful and respectful in what you write for the public about your travels, including your use of social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -, and what photos you take and post. Think about a post or photo carefully before you publish: is it accurate? Is it enlightening? Could it be seen as patronizing? What would the people I’m talking about say if they read what I said/saw my photos? Would it be acceptable for a stranger to talk about your community, and share photos of your children, on their blog in the way you are about to?

Earlier this month, National Public Radio did a story about how Zambians, other Africans and aid workers are using social media to show factual errors and condescending remarks in a memoir by British actress Louise Linton about her gap year. The hashtag being used is #LintonLies.

An excerpt from Linton’s book:

I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Really? THAT moment was that child’s GREATEST JOY?! And that is the kind of circumstance that makes you feel not out of place? She also talks in her memoir about child soldiers in Zambia – something that is not actually an issue in Zambia. Throughout her book, she confuses Zambia with Congo and Rwanda. The Zambian embassy in London has even called her out.

And then there’s actress Debra Messing, who seems similarly confused about Africa being a country, and posted photos online recently that gave people the impression that her message was more about “look where I am!” than the people she was supposed to be there FOR on behalf of two NGOs, as dissected by a commentator at Jezebel.

It all looks like ‘White Savior Barbie’ come to life – White Savior Barbie is an Instagram account that hilariously parodies volunteer selfies in developing countries, as highlighted in this article on the Huffington Post. There’s also an article in the satirical magazine The Onion that mocks voluntourism , joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.”

I actually have a little bit of sympathy for Messing. I know that they had good intentions. And we’ve all done things out of ignorance that we later, often quickly, regret. We all make cultural missteps. We all make communications missteps. And aid workers can get quite carried away in an ongoing and very smug game of more-in-tune-with-people-and-not-acting-privileged-than-thou when they mock volunteer humanitarians and others, and that can be just as bad as the missteps they mock. I’ve been called out a few times for things I’ve written my blogs from developing countries – sometimes I haven’t agreed with those criticisms, sometimes I have. But I hope I’ve never come from a place of “look at me going to save all these poor people!”

I also hope these missteps don’t stop people from sharing their adventures online, including photos:

UNICEF recognizes the enormous power of visual imagery such as this to engage, inform and inspire audiences – and to advocate for children’s rights. Photographs or film footage that depict real life situations of children, and UNICEF programmes supporting supporting them, are one of the most effective ways to communicate these issues. — UNICEF Guidelines: Protecting children’s rights in corporate partner image use, viewed online in July 2016. More UNICEF photo guidelines here

I learn so much reading various posts on social media from people working in developing countries. It’s brave to put yourself and your thoughts and opinions out there, for public consumption. But be ready to revisit what you’ve said and thought online when it comes under public criticism.

And aid agencies, PLEASE train your workers, including volunteers and celebrity representatives, on how to use social media – and what not to do – before they start their work abroad or go on a field visit.

Check out this code of conduct resource from Child Rights International Network regarding taking photos of children in developing countries (really, anywhere).

Update October 21, 2016:  “a hot mess” of “neo-colonialism, racism, hypocrisy and privilege.” A Christian ministry feels the backlash of a very ill-thought video of their impressions of Uganda. Another story about the video from NPR’s Goats & Soda.

Update May 10, 2017: A photo of a young girl being raped, used by the magazine LensCulture to promote a for-profit competition by Magnum, a prestigious photo agency, violated UNICEF’s ethical guidelines on reporting on children by showing the victim’s face, which makes her identifiable, and lacked any explanation regarding the enslavement and abuse of the girl. The incident also brought attention to a broader issue in photojournalism: how the Western media depicts — and often demeans — young women and girls in poor countries. More about the incident here (the photo is NOT shown on this page).

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Tech & communications jargon versus reality

The Guardian, a media organization based in the UK, has a wonderful online program called the Global Professionals Network, “a space for NGOs, aid workers and development professionals to share knowledge and expertise”. They also have an occasional feature called “The Secret Aidworker,” a column written by anonymous aid workers, talking about the not-so-great parts of humanitarian work.

The most recent blog is an aid worker talking about the “dark side” of humanitarian / development communications. Like me, she trained as a journalist, and it affects both her approach and her ethics regarding public relations and marketing. I was so struck by these two paragraphs from her blog:

The international community is too focused on using gimmicks in outreach campaigns rather than considering who their audience is and what they want. I was recently asked to design an outreach campaign to educate the local community we work in about the work we do. So keeping in mind the low literacy rate of our audience and the limited access they have to online and print media, I designed a communications campaign accordingly. However, that was considered old and outdated.

For my organisation, the use of new technology such as apps and social media held priority over the local regional media, even though I explained much of these were inaccessible to the people we were trying to reach. Too often people think that if a country has access to the internet and mobile phones, every one has access. They don’t consider the cost of mobile data, the literacy rate, or if the locals would even use their devices the same way as in the US and Europe.

Oh, I SO hear this! Not just in humanitarian work, but in all communications work for nonprofits, governments and other mission-based organizations, anywhere. I hear from nonprofits wanting to explore using SnapChat that haven’t updated their web site in months.They want to host a hackathon to develop an app while their manager of volunteers is refused money for posters for a volunteer recruitment campaign. They want to know the best engagement analytics software to purchase while their online community is quiet for weeks, with no staff posting questions, no volunteers sharing information, etc. They want a crowdsourced fundraising campaign but haven’t sent thank you’s to donors this year. They want a viral online marketing campaign to promote something but balk at the idea of a staff person visiting area communities of faith and civic clubs to build personal relationships with local people, especially groups that represent minorities that are under-represented within the organization’s volunteer, client and donor base.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have long been a promoter and advocate of ICT4D. I wrote one of the first papers – back in 2001 – about handheld devices, what were then called PDAs (personal digital assistants), in health and human services, citizens’ reporting, advocacy, etc. I am a pioneer regarding virtual volunteering. I use, and advise on the use of, social media to promote a variety of information and network with others. I regularly post to TechSoup’s Public Computing, ICT4D, and Tech4Good community forum branch about apps4good – smart phone applications meant to educate people about maternal health, help women leave abusive relationships, connect people with emergency housing and more. So I certainly cannot be accused of being a Luddite. But with all that said, I also still see the value of, and know how to leverage, printed flyers, printed posters, paper newsletters, lawn signs, newspaper ads, radio ads, radio interviews, TV interviews, TV ads, onsite speaking engagements, display tables, display booths and other “old fashioned” ways of communicating.

This aid workers blog reminds me of the early days of the World Wide Web, when I would hear an executive director of a nonprofit or the director of a government program talk about how great the agency’s new web site was, but as they talked, I realized they’d never looked at it themselves, and weren’t really fully aware of what the Internet was.

wizardToo many senior staff are bedazzled by buzzwords and jargon they’ve heard from consultants, giving their employees orders to do something based only on what they think is “hip” now. I am just as frustrated by organizations that overly-focus on the latest social media fads for communications as I am by organizations that ignore all things Internet and smart phone-related.

What should you do if you face this in the work place? Use small words and lots of data with your senior staff, and stay tenacious. Remember that a list of potential expenses and budgets for time can make a case for you to do a comprehensive, realistic communications plan. And be explicit and detailed on how your communications efforts will be evaluated for effectiveness.

My other blogs that relate to this:

Insecurity in the Humanitarian Cyberspace: A Call for Innovation

ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) has a fantastic blog posting, Insecurity in the Humanitarian Cyberspace: A Call for Innovation, by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik. An excerpt:

“Over the last two decades, innovations have fueled the creation of a humanitarian cyberspace. It is now time for the task of addressing the challenges posed by the humanitarian cyberspace to be prioritised on the humanitarian innovation agenda… The traditional notion that the ´virtual` world is a different social space than the ´real world` is by now obsolete, also in the humanitarian context… While the traditional threats to the humanitarian space persist, the humanitarian cyberspace broadens the scope of humanitarian action – which means that, instead of shrinking, the humanitarian space is actually poised to enter an expanding frontier. As illustrated by the increasing reliance on mobile cash transfers in food aid, the humanitarian cyberspace also offers new options for the constitution and distribution of relief. The notion that access to information and humanitarian data constitutes a form of relief in its own right illustrates how technology is reshaping the very definition of aid. The emergence of ‘digital humanitarians’ exemplifies a shift in the understanding of who is an aid provider and the possibilities for providing aid from a distance. At the same time, the humanitarian cyberspace has engendered a new set of threats, which impinge on the humanitarian space and which needs to be taken more seriously in the context of humanitarian innovation.”

Another excerpt:

“The use of social media by fieldworkers may undermine principles of neutrality and impartiality and endanger recipients of humanitarian aid as well as aid workers. The dilemma is well-known: In the humanitarian field, the free speech of aid workers must be balanced against the vulnerability of aid recipients and the particular dynamics of the emergency context. However, social media exacerbates the risk, also for humanitarians themselves…While the medical and social work professions (among others) are developing more robust, binding and enforceable industry standards with respect to social media, the humanitarian sector is lagging behind. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are largely perceived as ‘private’ platforms, even when used actively during and for work. Additionally, the tension between security concerns and fundraising priorities seems to exacerbate the difficulty of developing strong and innovative approaches to responsible social media use.”

This entire blog is a MUST read for anyone working in international development, as well as any nonprofit, government or other mission-based organization. It is based on a roundtable at the 4th bi-annual IHSA World Conference on Humanitarian Studies and Sandvik’s recent article in the Third World Quarterly ‘The humanitarian cyberspace: shrinking space or an expanding frontier?’

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) was established in 1997, as a mechanism to provide a forum on learning, accountability and performance issues for the humanitarian sector.

role of networked mobile technologies in improving sanitation

From a report on the role of networked mobile technologies in improving sanitation:

More than mobile phone ownership, the level of sophistication of mobile services in many countries, such as mobile money, mobile internet and machine-to-machine connectivity, starkly contrasts with the status of sanitation services. For example in Kenya, where access to sanitation is reported at 30%,10 people are more likely to conduct financial transactions through their mobile money account (59% of the adult population use mobile money) and browse the internet on their mobile phone (up to 40% of the population), rather than benefit from the dignity, privacy and convenience of a well-maintained toilet.

This year, with the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals aiming to set targets for the next 15 years, there is no doubt mobile devices, technologies and services have a role to play to support bridging the current infrastructure divide.

The GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities (M4D Utilities) programme sees an important opportunity for mobile ecosystems to help solve some of the sanitation access challenges in emerging markets, including data collection, monitoring, operation and maintenance, financing. Adding to our ongoing work in the energy and water sectors, this new report aims to outline how mobile channels can support sanitation service delivery while building new engagement models with customers in underserved settings.11 Unlike the energy sector where mobile tools are increasingly integrated12 in decentralized solutions, mobile in the sanitation sector is at an early stage of development. What is needed to better understand the role and impact of mobile in this sector, is a collaborative approach to mobile technology integration, grant support for developing and piloting such innovative solutions and rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the impact of these innovations in the service delivery.

To be more blunt: convincing communities of the benefits of using toilets and of the health risks of open defecation are first, critical steps in implementing successful and sustainable sanitation services, something in which the world vitally, critically needs. This kind of convincing is done through involving communities in the design, operation and monitoring of sanitation services, and messaging that forces them to recognize that open defecation and similar unsanitary practices causes sickness and disease. Such convincing needs to be done through a variety of measures, and these activities can be supported by text messaging, social media, even ring tones.

This report is from the GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation, created in 2007 and bringing together mobile operators, donors and the international development community in demonstrating the positive social impact of mobile technology. The foundation has a board of directors “independent ” of the Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM/GSMA), an industry group representing “the interests of mobile operators worldwide. The GSMA Foundation provides resources and support to GSMA programmes in the vital areas of healthcare, agriculture, finance, digital identity, utilities and the inclusion of women and girls in the digital economy.

(a little late for #worldtoiletday, I know – sorry)