Tech Tools for the Modern Activist
By Wilson Wong
Activists today have yet another front to fight on– the Internet. Massive multinational corporations have long recognised this, and have ranks of engineers and PR staff for this very reason. We may not have this, but we have the truth, and with a lot of passion and cleverly designed tools leveraged strategically, we can become a real force for effective organising.
Below are a few of the lesser-known web tools I regularly use to increase the time I spend challenging oppression rather than my email service. Know of any other tools that I should have mentioned? Message me and I may include them in another blog post.
RSS Reader – Feedly
What is it good for? Easily keeping track of topics you specify, finding potential protest opportunities, and finding media coverage of your actions.
What is an RSS Reader? Imagine you’re at a party, and there’s a giant fountain spewing thousands of Skittles. Since the green ones are clearly the best – you just wish there was a magical way you can filter out only the green ones and then automatically fill your own personal bowl.
If that Skittle fountain was the Internet, then that magical filter is called an RSS Reader. An RSS Reader constantly scans the Internet for news articles, posts and pages for whatever keywords you tell it to. It digests all of this information and presents it in a summarised format to you via a dashboard.
Feedly is one program of many that are RSS Readers, and one I prefer personally. See here for other highly rated RSS Readers.
As an example, with regards to DxE organising, I’ve told my RSS Reader to search for the following keywords:
- Humane meat
- Free range
- Whole Foods
I’ve set it so that all of the results for these key words go into a tab I labelled “HumaneWashing” (see red arrow in image below). When this tab is selected, I get a digest of the latest articles around the Web that include those keywords:
You can see I also have a tab entitled ‘Animal Rights’ and it basically contains keywords that pull out news articles covering animal rights in general. The nice thing is, you can define what and how your tabs work for you.
What is it good for? Communicating quickly and efficiently on team projects. Protest coming this weekend? Need to sort out who has signs, who can print leaflets, and agree on the plan of action? Use Slack.
What is Slack? Slack is a smartphone and PC app that is sort of the hot new thing amongst start-ups right now. It’s been getting a lot of rave reviews for optimising the way teams communicate. Think of it as a program that has all of the search and sorting functionality of email, yet the fluidity, naturalness and ease of use of a chatting app.
There are channels that are designed to contain conversations related to a specific topic. For example, in our local Bay Area DxE chapter, we have the following channels:
- #general – for general work related messages
- #random – for casual non-work banter and bad jokes by Chris
- #forum – for discussing and planning the DxE Forum
- #protests – to suggest and organise upcoming protests
- #DxEHouse – for all DxE House related alerts; useful for things like toilet paper shortages.
Another useful function is the ability to mention people. If the toilet paper shortage is dire and Adam is on his way home from work, I can message in the #DxEHouse channel:
“@Adam: we really need more toilet paper in the house –could grab some on the way home?”
This way, Adam gets a notification telling him that he has been mentioned. Adam (and all other Slack users) also has a tab that shows only messages in which he has been mentioned. This is great for finding only those messages that are relevant to you!
In the event you want to send a message blast to several people, you can also mention everyone in a channel or everyone on your team via @channel and @everyone, respectively.
What is it good for? Scheduling posts, handling, interacting and posting on both your personal and public social media accounts.
What is HootSuite? HootSuite is a social media dashboard. It allows you to quickly jump between your personal page, and any other page you may run on a variety of social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is good at scheduling multiple posts as well as closely tracking specific things.
The dashboard is made up of a number of vertical columns called streams. The number, type and specifics of each stream are completely up to you. As seen in the screenshot above, the streams I have include those showing general newsfeed posts, a stream to show upcoming scheduled posts on Facebook (currently empty), two streams to follow tags - one exclusively tracking the #WhatAnimalsDeserve tag on Twitter and the other to track the #DxE tag on Facebook. Streams that exclusively follow a tag like that are great for closely following a campaign you are organising or to which you are currently contributing.
For my own use, I created two different tabs (encircled above in red): one exclusively for my personal accounts, and one for the DxE accounts. As with the streams, the tabs you create (or not!) are completely up to you.
Lastly, HootSuite also offers some free analytic tools. For example, you can create reports that identify the reach and the quantity of interaction of your posts as well as identify and rank the most successful posts. However the vast majority of the analytical tools are only for paid subscribers and personally, I don’t even regularly use the free ones.
What is it good for? A useful, albeit controversial, tool to measure, track and ultimately optimise your social influence online. Also useful to schedule posts at the most effective times.
What is Klout? Klout is a website that analyses all of your social media accounts, determines how influential you are, then assigns you a score out of 100. For more specifics on how this score is calculated as well as tips on how to increase it, see here. You can probably already tell why this tool is controversial, since it literally gives you a score for how popular you are online. However, if you use your online presence to do activism and want to increase your social influence online, this could be useful.
As seen above, you can track and measure your impact over history, see which social media network is most influential (I almost exclusively use Facebook, and so almost all of my influence comes from there) and even see the performance of each individual post via their ‘Score Impact.’
One of Klout’s coolest features is the ability to see when your audience in your networks are most active – and hence schedule your posts at those times for maximal impact: