Social media tools and platforms offer much potential for citizen journalists and advocacy groups to communicate for social change. By enabling two-way communications, they inspire discussion and debate that can enhance social justice and sustainable development processes. However, it is important to use them in the correct social context as they are not magic wands – they cannot produce instant results or quick fixes.
The challenge for advocacy groups and activists is to find the right mix of tools, engagement methods and messages to inspire social change. Given Sri Lanka’s analog-digital co-existence, they must straddle the two spheres of old and new media. Relative emphasis depends on intended audience.
Participants came from diverse backgrounds, representing organisations working on advocacy issues such as community development, disaster management, trade unions, women's rights, human rights, media freedom, ICT policy, and environmental conservation.
Session 1: Engaging stakeholders via new media: potential and challenges
Session 2: Blogging as platform for online identity and discussion
Session 3: Using social media strategically: engaging audiences; Facebook and Twitter applications, etc.
Session 4: Going beyond text: images, videos and infographics
Session 5: Making sense of data: analytics and rankings
Session 6: The bigger picture: issues of privacy, cyber surveillance, online security
Each session involved presentations, case studies, discussions, as well as hands-on type sessions where participants – armed with their own laptops – experimented with free social media platforms in real time by going online.
The workshop was conducted by an Indo-Lanka resource team comprising: Amit Baruah, Programme Director Education and Training, CSE; Natasha Badhwar, Journalism Coach at Express Institute of Media Studies and Media Consultant; Kiran Pandey, Programme Director, Information Management, CSE; Nalaka Gunawardene, Director, TVEAP; Nadeeja Abeyasekera, IT & New Media Manager, TVEAP; Chanuka Wattegama, independent ICT researcher and policy analyst; Sanjana Hattotuwa, Founder & Editor, Groundviews.org, ICT researcher and activist; and Keheliya Gallaba, a software engineer.
Amit Baruah, CSE Programme Director, Education and Tranining said: “In today's world, outreach and engagement are critical to both organisations and individuals. The CSE-TVEAP workshop can be termed a success due to the consistently high level of engagement displayed by the participants as well as the planning and execution that went into the course. We believe that all those involved in the workshop were enriched by the process.”
The workshop explored not only the technology choices but also societal and cultural impacts and reaction to new media proliferation in Lankan society. Participants agreed that while connectivity barriers have been significantly lowered in recent years, there still are formidable challenges of producing locally relevant content and sparking off focused discussions online.
Reflecting on the discussions during the workshop, TVEAP Director Nalaka Gunawardene noted: “With over 1.5 million Facebook accounts and an estimated 14,000 Twitter accounts in Sri Lanka (and counting), social media now occupy a significant part of our public and private discourse. The success of youthful satirists like Jehan R – the most popular Lankan on YouTube – indicates how individuals can leverage these with imagination and innovation. New brands and campaigns are being built in unlikely ways.”
Referring to increasing levels of intolerance and hate speech on social media platforms, he added: “In such a charged setting, Lankan activists must carefully choose their words, images and platforms, and stay their course while ensuring personal safety, online security, systems redundancy and exemplary conduct.”
Chennai experienced its worst floods in recent history. While unexpected and heavy rainfall was initially held responsible for the flooding, analysis has further shown that destruction of wetlands in Chennai, which stands strategically at the tail end of several rivers, was a primary reason as well. Town planners see only land, not water, and everyone wants buildings and more buildings. Cities like Hyderabad and Bengaluru, too, have lost their wetlands and lakes due to urban expansion, pollution and catchment loss.