Stay Safe Online...Through Pictures?

Stay Safe Online...Through Pictures?

The need for civil society organizations and activists to understand best practices behind digital security and digital safety has grown exponentially over the past few years. This need has expanded beyond closed environments to more open societies that may not have as looming of a threat of communications interception, targeted malware attacks, and other dastardly deeds.

While there have been a lot of “wins” for civil society in restrictive environments to use ICTs to mobilize ahead of key political moments, these regimes continue to step up their efforts to counteract such communication.

Independent media sites in Belarus had their websites hijacked during the presidential election, a popular Iranian circumvention tool had a malicious backdoor established in some versions of the software, internet access has been intermittently disabled in Tibet and other places, and of course Egypt’s disappearance from the WWW.

These days, Syria has been the most recent example of the many ways in which ICTs can be manipulated to put activists at risk. Syrian activists have had their accounts compromised and become vectors for spreading spyware, been recipients of targeted malware through Skype, and internet access disabled throughout several cities. Our team has also heard that reliable tools for VoIP and SMS are hard to come by for use by average citizens.

In such an environment, conducting a workshop on best practices behind digital security is extremely difficult, if not impossible. So what does one do to spread this knowledge to help keep their friends and colleagues safe online?

The Union of Free Syria Students have used photos to convey this message: individuals will hold a sign with a tip on online security, take a picture, and post it onto Facebook. Such an approach has many important benefits: internet users can quickly learn simple lessons on digital security through a widely accessed platform, it does not require much background knowledge on computer science, and lessons can be easily shared with their networks. It also has the potential to draw in new audiences who may be politically invested in a cause, but may not see the immediate overlap between internet and mobile security with political mobilization. Tibet Action Institute has also cleverly used methods to quickly and easily disseminate digital security tips. They’ve created a photo campaign that also provides basic tips in English and Tibetan on digital safety, as well as a video series on “Safe Travels Online” that uses humor to convey online security concepts.

At NDI, our team often advises partners on digital security best practices. While my team and I find this topic to be *endlessly* fascinating, we’re excited to identify effective techniques to share these lessons to those who leverage ICTs to achieve their political and organizational goals.