Posted by Rosalie Clarke on 19 06 2012 | Leave a comment
The use of social media is advancing at a breakneck speed in nearly all industries, and the international justice field is no exception. This phenomenon in the humanitarian sector was considered at the recent webinar hosted by Harvard University’s Law and Public Policy School. During the online event entitled ”Social Media and Humanitarian Protection,” speakers from Médecins Sans Frontières, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and ICT4Peace examined key developments, challenges, and critiques surrounding social media’s impact on humanitarian protection.
While humanitarian work has distinct goals and practices from those of international justice, the questions raised in the seminar reflect those pursuing projects of justice: how does social media and new media have an ultimate impact on the goals of international justice practitioners? Has the international justice field fully explored the potential of these kinds of tools? What are the risks of using such tools?
These questions couldn’t be timelier (for insightful contributions of others in the blogosphere, see here and here). Invisible Children’s now-infamous Kony2012 campaign has come under major scrutiny, not only for its oversimplification of the complexities involved in the Kony issue, but also in speculation over motives in creating the campaign. Brevity and simplification may not be unusual in the case of charitable organizations or viral campaigns, but Kony212 aroused major concerns over the way campaigns use new media tools to promote their cause.
Beyond these campaign-specific concerns, the increased use of social media platforms also raises concerns over the nature of such viral campaigns and their relative impact on the people they target. The speed at which these campaigns can come to the public’s attention, and the subsequent speed at which these campaigns are forgotten or overshadowed is an ongoing challenge for advocates. As we are faced with a glut of continual information and needy causes, constantly updated in real-time and reduced to sound-bites and a limited number of letter characters, how are we to filter out or prioritize any particular causes or issues?
A recent trend that has spread to the international justice advocacy sector is the instances of celebrity advocacy (or as one of the webinar participants put it, ‘Celebvocacy’). George Clooney protested over the atrocities in Sudan, calling for Bashir’s arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In her capacity as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie has traveled to conflict zones wrestling with questions of justice, and has been spotted at trial proceedings at the ICC.
I would suggest it is unclear whether social media is truly helping causes related to international justice and humanitarian protection. While these platforms have been very useful for professionals and academics in the field the discussions throughout the course of the webinar highlighted the need for more critical analysis of the impact of these tools on the sector.
Rosalie D. Clarke is currently the media intern for IJC and has worked as a commissioning editor for the website ‘e-IR’, she is about to embark on a PhD in the field of International Conflict Resolution - this work will include an analysis of the impact of social media and other forms of communication on reducing violent conflict.