Lively discussion at Lebanon screening

Yesterday, after Martyrs’ Square cleared out and before Valentines dates began, 10 activists and social media enthusiasts gathered at the Social Media Exchange (SMEX) offices in Badaro to watch '10 tactics for turning information into action' and discuss the potential of using digital and social media for positive social change in Lebanon.Jessica Dheere, from SMEX, led the discussion afterwards, questioning the audience about the video and how the featured tactics might be applied in Lebanon. Most of the audience agreed that the video did a great job confirming that new media tools – when combined with compelling information – can have a significant impact on feelings of self-empowerment as well as outreach and advocacy efforts. There was less consensus about the effect tools have had on realising collective desires for policy or regime change.

A volunteer with the youth group, Aie Serve, appreciated all the potential of digital technology but lamented that she didn’t have the “know-how” to produce such results. More training, she said, could help address this lack of skill for herself and her colleagues. An independent journalist commented that these things can be self-taught and explained how she had been afraid to take on video production until she tried it herself and realised just how easy it was.

Another Aie Serve member raised another significant question: Once you get your information online, she asked, how do you ensure people access the material? This question triggered several responses and discussion threads. Jessica questioned whether the NGOs, civil society, and social media communities in Lebanon, and especially Beirut, are too inward-looking. One blogger and trainer suggested this is due to a lack of connection between the NGOs, technologists and even donors in Lebanon. There are many successful ongoing offline advocacy campaigns but, he said, they receive little attention from the traditional media and the groups aren’t using new media effectively yet. Another agreed that NGOs need to be more strategic when it comes to developing communications strategies, emphasising the importance of establishing a target audience and project requirements which may often require the use of new media. Jessica says that throughout this discussion, “we all kept in mind the context of Lebanon’s slow, unreliable, and unaffordable internet access.”

IndyAct was cited by some as one of the few examples of an activist organization using online media effectively in Lebanon. Discussion led to IndyAct's Man in the Cube, a 3 day performance art installation with actor Rami Eid enacting the last man on earth's struggle against the effects of climate change (including rising water levels, extreme temperatures and lack of food). The purpose of this project was to raise awareness about climate change but some people felt that Eid did not tweet well and he should have been educating the passers-bys (as well as online listeners) about the need to care for the environment.

None of the major dilemmas raised in this discussion were resolved, but an idea was proposed to launch a campaign to convey the importance of online media, not just for activism and advocacy, but also for e-government services, like those that are just beginning to come online at Jessica concludes,“It’s all very meta, an offline-online media campaign to educate the public about the importance of online media. But I guess stranger things have happened in Lebanon.”

Article and photo by Jessica Dheere. Read her blog post about the event here.