29 December 2014

Online security for activists

Political and social activists often need to protect their identities and to be able to talk without being overheard. The risks they face, and responses they must take, continue to evolve. News about the increasing use of monitoring and spying by security services is fair warning: dissenters are highly likely to be monitored.

The Guardian (UK), which has had many scoops on Edward Snowden and national and international spying, has published an article with "21 tips, tricks and shortcuts to help you stay anonymous online"
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/06/tips-tricks-anonymous-privacy "Avoiding being tracked online is nearly impossible, but here are a few ways to reduce the risk".

For LGBTI activists (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and others), revealing their gender identities can be deemed illegal in many countries. This guide for LGBTI activists in sub-Saharan Africa therefore provides clear warnings about the dangers faced. 

"Digital security tools and Tactics for the LGBTI community in Sub-Saharan Africa" provides a free set of tools and guides which it dubs "Security in a Box".

While these methods are designed for a specific community, most can be used by activists for other causes and in other locations. 

The areas covered are:

Part I – Context
Digital attacks against the African LGBTI community
How to assess your digital security risk

Part II – How-to Booklet
Protect your computer from malware and hackers
Protect your information from physical threats
Create and maintain secure passwords
Protect the sensitive files on your computer
Recover from information loss
Remove hidden metadata from files
Destroy sensitive information
Keep your Internet communication private
Remain anonymous and bypass censorship on the internet
Protect yourself and your data when using social networking sites
Protect yourself and your data when using LGBTI dating sites
Use mobile phones as securely as possible
Use smartphones as securely as possible
Use Internet Caf├ęs as securely as possible

Direct link: https://www.securityinabox.org/communities/02
(via 76crimes.com).

27 October 2014

Right-size your social media posts

How long should your blog posts be? Your tweets? Your podcasts or YouTube videos?

Time is money and researchers are paying close attention to these issues. Social media tracker SumAll has shared the available research - and some knowledge of its own - to build this helpful infographic. Thanks to tool-maker Buffer for sharing.

If you ever wanted your videos to go viral, or wondered how to get people to re-tweet your posts, these tips might be just what you need.

12 October 2014

Reporting on Ebola, safely

Doctors, nurses, family and friends are taking considerable risks to treat people infected by Ebola. As Professor Peter Piot, the head of the UN's Ebola response, said: "the smallest mistake can be fatal".
Reporting a health crisis is possibly equally dangerous, but very different from reporting on a conflict or war zone. How do reporters and their crews cope?

A unique BBC report takes us behind the scenes, to look at the precautions that one team is taking to interview professionals and families and attend funerals. Notably, despite the breathing masks, full body suits and rubber gloves, the BBC crew are still not going into the 'Red Zone' where patients with confirmed Ebola infections are present. Sadly, it is often the poorly-equipped local staff, with limited training and poor compensation, who are doing the riskiest work in this crisis.

See the story and video here: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29581414
For a grim read about the realities of an Ebola clinic, read this report in the New York Times: A  Hospital From Hell, in a City Swamped by Ebola 

06 September 2014

Ebola shows how (not) to communicate in a health crisis

IFRC - the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - has spoken plainly about communication problems during the Ebola outbreak in Eastern Africa.

Ebola is scary because there is currently no proven cure. This has led to panic and strict controls, including border closures. That has limited the options for agencies, like IFRC, that are trying to help solve the crisis and treat the victims.

Though this story is full of development sector jargon, the message is clear: get people involved at all levels and don't just issue commands, but also listen and get local people involved.

"the communication approach in these circumstances should be “less top-down and less giving orders,” and not just limited to the agencies and their volunteers on the ground. It should be a multi-stakeholder effort, involving the corporate sector, the media and community leaders, with the government in a lead role. [Everyone] has a role to play here."

Read more on Devex.com

30 April 2014

40 ways to improve your social media posts

A simple but powerful list. What are your secret tips?

1. Write with a consistent, natural and conversational tone of voice. 
2. Focus on your readers. Understand their interests, needs, desires and motivations. 
3. Focus on timely topics but add your own voice. 
4. Add value to a post by encouraging discussion, asking a genuine question (advice or opinion).
5. A post should be clear and easily understood.
6. Avoid simply promoting your own company or work. 

Twitter (follow me: @Scott_McQuade)
7. Post 4-10 times a day.  
8. Avoid repeating a tweet more than once a day. Don’t automate the same tweet.
9. Include 1-3 relevant hashtags in tweets to help people who search by key words.
10. Include links, to get 86% more engagement.
11. Use images for twice the engagement rate.
12. Shorter tweets get read and re-tweeted more (under 100 characters).
13. Use no more than 130 characters, so people can retweet and add hashtags etc.
14. Live tweeting of events helps people follow along: nominate a clear, simple hashtag.  
15. Post during working hours for 30% more engagement.
16. Ask for re-tweets of important posts: it drives 12x more re-tweets. 

Facebook (like my Facebook page
17. Consistent quality matters more than quantity.  
18. No more than 4 posts a day.
19. Short messages work best. Long messages are okay if they’re compelling.  
20. Timing matters, but your audience is international. Spread posts throughout the day. 
21. Don’t forget weekends! Readers are more engaged when they have more time. 
22. Photos attract readers, responses and re-shares. 
23. Emoticons receive a 59% higher engagement rate, but use sparingly.
24. Explicitly ask readers to like/comment: it drives higher engagement.

Google+ (put me in your Google+ circle)
25. Include an image to grab attention.
26. Include links or post web articles (web links usually include images).
27. Pose a comment or question to encourage discussion.
28. Monitor discussions and return to the post to interact with readers.
29. Hashtags are automated, but make sure they are appropriate and delete if needed. Include 1-3 hashtags at the end of your post, but only if needed.
30. Keep it short: 1-3 paragraphs. Only a few lines are immediately visible, so get to the point.
31. Share with specific circles as well as making posts public. Include usernames in the post or comments to draw their attention or give thanks, but do it sparingly.

LinkedIn (if I know you, let's get LinkedIn)
32. Only share high quality content. 
33. Share new, informative material. Readers are happy to learn.  
34. Be a thought-leader by only talking about your area of expertise. Join relevant communities.
35. Only discuss professionally relevant topics. LinkedIn is not a general discussion forum.
36. Start conversations with a thought-provoking statement or question. 
37. Avoid simply promoting a corporate initiative or service or posting a news story. Instead, put it in context, pose a question and invite comments.
38. Prepare to engage with discussants: don’t post and run. 
39. Don’t simply post a link to a website. Put the content on LinkedIn for better engagement.

40. Share your expertise: add your own tips below!

Most of these commonsense principles also apply at Tumblr, YouTube and other social media sites.

27 March 2014

Plan well for maps

Maps are a great way to illustrate an issue, yet they can be fraught with challenges.
Many advocacy and information campaigns use maps to get collaborators involved - reporting on stockouts of medicines, or incidents of violence, for example. Maps are very helpful for outbreaks of disease, or in cases of disaster. Animated maps might help you explore geo-specific trends.

But there are some key questions to consider before you start - like getting access to an accurate map and how much it will cost. There are plenty of disputed borders in the world and tracking those takes time and money, so map owners typically want to be paid. Free maps might carry branding or other limitations, though there are a bunch of useful free options available.

Once you have a map, you need to consider how to get reliable data and how you will keep the map going. Fundamentally, how does the map fit into your communication?

In a blog about mapping violence against women, advocacy specialist Dirk Slater of Fabriders explores options including the mapping tools Ushahidi and Crowdmap. Dirk also discusses some key issues that you should consider before spending time and money on your project:
  • How can mapping support your campaigns and missions - how will you use it, how will it be maintained?
  • Take security very seriously: consider how to get quality data but avoid identifying people where information is sensitive. This inclues verifying the people who provide information.
  • Consider the cultural relevance of maps: do your audiences use maps, and how do they read them? Do they expect street map view, or satellite view? Topographical or political?
  • Consider how the map will be used. Will it show off your data to good effect? Will it influence people? How does the map connect with your strategy? 
Dirk also provides links to some further resources: questions to ask yourself before deploying Ushahidi, cleaning data, how to use icons, and how to verify users.

See: What I’ve learned about mapping violence

26 March 2014

How to write a good advertisement

Many people hate advertising because it is irrelevant, shrill or poorly thought-through. Writing ads that attract, inform and motivate our audiences is an important skill, but it is nothing new. 

The TV series "Mad Men" celebrates the heady days of advertising in the 1960s, but modern advertising came of age much earlier. Vance Packard's book, "The Hidden Persuaders" (Amazon) explored how advertisers tap into human motivations and weaknesses. It was first published in 1957.

Even earlier, in 1942, Victor O. Schwab wrote the seminal work "How to write a good advertisement" (Amazon). Republished many times, the work is a classic of logic and commonsense. Fundamental lessons include focusing on the benefits to the buyer, not on the strengths of the company or even the features of the product or service.

Schwab was a very creative writer, as illustrated by this poem his book:

I see that you’ve spent quite a big wad of dough
To tell me the things you think I should know.
How your plant is so big, so fine, and so strong;
And your founder had whiskers so handsomely long.
So he started the business in old ’92!
How tremendously interesting that is… to you.
He built up the thing with the blood of his life?
(I’ll run home like mad, tell that to my wife!)

Your machinery’s modern and oh so complete;
Your “rep” is so flawless; your workers so neat.
Your motto is “Quality”… capital “Q” –
No wonder I’m tired of “Your” and of “You”!
So tell me quick and tell me true
(Or else, my love, to hell with you!)
Less – “how this product came to be”;
More – what the damn thing does for me!

Will it save me money or time or work;
Or hike up my pay with a welcome jerk?
What drudgery, worry, or loss will it cut?
Can it yank me out of a personal rut?

Perhaps it can make my appearance so swell
That my telephone calls will wear out the bell;
And thus it might win me a lot of fine friends –
(And one never knows where such a thing ends!)

I wonder how much it could do for my health?
Could it show me a way to acquire some wealth –
Better things for myself, for the kids and the wife,
Or how to quit work somewhat early in life?

So tell me quick and tell me true
(Or else, my love, to hell with you!)
Less – “how this product came to be”;
More – what the damn thing does for me!

Too much to read? Here's Jeff Waite reading out the passage:

18 March 2014

Books for development - Conference

WHEN: June 2nd - 4th 2014
WHERE: Jack Morton Auditorium, George Washington University, 805 21st Street, N.W., Washington, D. C. 20052

The Books for Development Conference is an international forum for all those interested in the role of books, both print and e-formats, in promoting economic and social development.
The conference will address intertwined challenges of publishing for underserved populations: content delivery and business models. It will bring together leaders in publishing, technology, distribution, library science and economics to answer questions such as:
  • How can we develop sustainable business models for publishers, booksellers and distributors serving the developing world?
  • How can we exploit the cost advantages of production and distribution of e-publications in geographic areas with limited electronic infrastructure?
  • What is the current role of government policy and regulation in promoting or inhibiting availability of books?
  • How can advances in technology and funding enhance the value of library services for underserved populations?
  • How can we support indigenous publishers?
Learn more and register at the official website: http://www.books4development.org/

19 February 2014

Inspire people with your stories

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark is the most active head of an international organization on Twitter, according to Twiplomacy. Here, she sums up her commitment to social media, telling stories about international development and sharing tales of success.
"Development is about about stories. it is about stories of achievement, of progress, of people's lives being better than they were," she says. "People want to hear about this. They don't want to hear about all the failures, they want to hear about what difference are you making.
Development is about a lot more than the money you invest in it. It is about inspiring people to take action themselves."

12 February 2014

More women needed in the news media

A passionate call for greater representation, and protection, for women in the news media around the world, from Christiane Amanpour, CNN correspondent and presenter. Hopefully this will encourage more women to follow in her footsteps and others to hire, train and promote qualified women in equal numbers to men so that we get balanced news and media in future.

11 February 2014

Youtube video: quantity or quality?

Many communicators are turning to video to make their work more engaging. Audiences are certainly lapping it up, via PCs and mobile devices. But what makes for a good video?
In this video, science blogger Derek Muller reflects on the pros and cons - some of the them specific to YouTube - of producing lots of videos or investing time, effort and money in producing higher quality but fewer videos.
Muller has opted for quality, and it shows. It is the reason this video appears here, and it helps to explain Muller's success, even when he strays from his core science topics...
For more like this, see Muller's YouTube channel Veritasium.