Cellphones, philanthropy and activism – legal rights, safe practice and backlash

 

cellphones philanthropy activism rights

Cellphones, philanthropy and activism

Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

10th May 2016

Its “Top Trend Tuesday” – so what is my top philanthropy trend for today? And are global trends reflected in local South African trends?

Let’s me establish up front that I take my lead from Lucy Berhnolz in terms of global philanthropy trends. Lucy Bernholz (Twitter @p2173) is a leading trends expert and produces an annual Blueprint for Philanthropy – an industry forecast.

A key trend in civil society, which impacts directly on philanthropy and grantmaking programmes, is the widespread use of cellphones. Lucy says in her Blueprint for 2016 that while internet-connected cellphones might be the key tool for filming injustice and for spreading activist messages and mobilising communities around a cause, it is clear that there are areas of knowledge and practice that must catch up with this. These include: knowledge about legal rights, safe practice and backlash, and also include an understanding and practice of ethical, safe and just use of such channels.

The question, then, is: how does/ will this affect philanthropy focus, grant areas, and donor practice? And are these same issues prevalent in South Africa?

Firstly, yes – the cellphone issue is global, and their use continues to grow as a tool for activism. Secondly, the lack of knowledge about rights, practice and the potential for backlash is just as applicable. The right to film police action, for example, is constantly being re-established by members of the public who get their phones confiscated on filming police action.

With regard to ethical, safe and just use of such channels – across social media – we have witnessed a spate of public idiocy in 2016, resulting in the vilification of a number of idiots who have thought it appropriate to share their racist vitriol on social media channels. The most recent example (that emerged on Sunday 8th May 2016) is the #Mabel Jansen/ #Gillian Schutte saga around Judge Jansen’s racist diatribe regarding rape.  In this instance, different to the many other examples, questions have been posed around the ethics of and agenda in sharing a “private facebook conversation”. This might be the wrong question – or at least an unfair one – because while Jansen has said the conversation was private, Schutte has said the conversation was very much a public facebook conversation.

If one’s activist agenda is to expose racism, though, what are the ethics around sharing conversations if one party believes the conversation is being held privately – even if that conversation exposes brutal social prejudice?  I don’t know the answer to this question, so if anyone has answers or thoughts or more questions, please share!

On the original question about what activists and funders know, in South Africa, about safe practice, legal rights and the spectre of backlash around the use of such comms tools – I don’t know the answer specifically, but I suspect that Lucy Berhnolz’s take for the USA applies in South Africa too: not enough.  It is time to learn, and to take this forward as a key public information-sharing knowledge area in South Africa.

For your own peek at Lucy Bernholz’s Blueprint for 2016, look here:

http://www.grantcraft.org/assets/content/resources/blueprint_2016_final2.pdf

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