Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Online Activism: Five Things To Consider

So you've got a bee in your bonnet about something and you just can't wait to tell the world — and perhaps get them on board with your campaign. Okay, fine, but there are a few things you need to consider before you go nuts on the internet, particularly if you want to get support for your views.

My particular bee is the proposed SOPA/PIPA/ACTA legislation and the plethora of other restrictive laws that the powers that be seem intent on foisting on us whether we like it or not. The point is, I have been in situations where I felt very strongly about a situation and wanted to do something about it. If that describes you, I know where you're coming from. What you need to know is how to be effective. Here are some pointers:

1. Be as brief as you can

If you want to get people on side you need to state your case clearly and succinctly. If it's a complex issue, make bullet points to break it up into bite-sized chunks that are easy for the casual reader to digest. Jakob Nielsen says in an article on,

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

If you make a tl;dr rant in a huge text block o' doom you're pretty much doomed to failure. By breaking it up with paragraphs and bullet points you give people visual hooks to draw them in to your point of view.

2. Be articulate

A calm, well-reasoned approach backed up with relvevant facts and figures is more likely to get others on board. Histrionic polemics in which you either display a complete lack of knowledge or use terms that people outside of your peer group don't understand will alienate possible supporters. Give people a reason to be on your side.

3. Be honest

Accept that some people might not agree with you. Then tell the truth about your position; avoid smearing the opposition, exaggerating their downside or ignoring inconvenient truths. In the last few days some bloggers have got themselves heavily criticized by doing exactly that. If you announce that Google is forcing new users to join Google + because you hate Google, Google account holders will call you out. If you declare that internet pirates now have free rein to violate copyright because SOPA and PIPA have been shelved, you will be owned from Hell to breakfast in the comments.

4. Engage

Having conversations with those people you disagree with will bring more attention to the debate, partcularly if you do it in an open forum. Ask for comments and invite feedback. Don't feel threatened by people who disagree with you; debate with them to tease out any flaws in your argument — and theirs. The more people who join in the conversation, the better. A well-moderated democratic process will get more people involved than a deliberately controversial link-building exercise that could well just make you look stupid and get you laughed at.

5. Harness social media

Utilize the social media websites: post links to your blog posts or discussions you're taking part in on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and Google +. Use #hashtags on Twitter to make your comments searchable. Be careful of who you get involved with online, though. You don't want to get involved with anything illegal.


tl;dr = too long; didn't read

text block o' doom = long passage of text unbroken by paragraphs

owned = presented with an unassailable argument; called to account with no room to manoeuvre; put on the spot

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