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Human rights in a digital age:
how social media can support equality

CrisMc ©, 2021

Despite real fears about trolls, echo chambers and disinformation, digital campaigning can still be a powerful force for good – just ask the LGBTI community of Ireland.

Social media played a critical role in mobilising support during the country’s 2015 same-sex marriage referendum.

The human rights benefits from that victory continue to be felt today. Craig Dwyer, who ran the ‘Yes Equality’ winning online campaign, is convinced there are still lessons to be learned.

The Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 will explore more about human rights in the digital age.

It will be an opportunity to find new ways for online conversations to help achieve human rights goals.

On that, Craig says: "I know there’s a lot of criticism around social media that it’s only an echo chamber and you’re only speaking to your base.

“One stat that counts is that in the final weeks of the campaign our Facebook page had grown to 67,000 likes. That’s only a small fraction of the voting population.

“Yet organically, we were reaching 3 million people on Facebook. That is much more representative of the Irish electorate. It was reaching different audiences outside the bubble.

“The referendum was a watershed moment.”

He continues: “The fact that we could have this really nuanced, national conversation helped accelerate equality and social change, and positive attitudes towards LGBTI people in Ireland.

“We are still seeing the benefits of that six years later. There is still work to be done, but it was a signal that we can make these changes and the sky will not fall in.

“It gave permission to policymakers to change the rules for the better.

“It became so much more than just vote on gay marriage. It became a vote on the type of country you want to live in, the type of people we are and the type of society we want to be a part of.

As a result of the victory, Craig and his colleagues from Yes Equality were in demand from other positive-change campaigns who needed help to reach supporters online.

Craig thinks digital communication works for mobilisation: to convert the online to off-line.

“Local Yes Equality teams around the country used WhatsApp groups to drive to the canvassing effort, making it easy for people to participate and get involved.

“Digital was a core component of the campaign.”

Today Craig runs the agency ForaChange that helps organisations, campaigners and activists use digital and social media in the fight for a more progressive, fair and equal society.

One thing he hopes comes out of the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 is a more diverse representation at all levels in EU countries.

He says: “We need to foster more diversity in representation. Certain groups are not represented in public life: in journalism, in business, in positions of power.

“That goes for women, LGBTI people, people from minority backgrounds, migrants. They all live among us but I do not think they are represented enough.

“We are not seeing equality in decisions because those groups of society are not represented.”

If you have an idea for a session to help improve the human rights situation for everyone in Europe today, we want to hear from you.

Proposals for sessions is now open. Submit yours today.

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