When The Digital Campaign Is Not Enough...

Recently, with the help of some friends I started a small online campaign called 'Doh Do Death'. In Trinidadian creole English it means 'don't do death'. It's a digital death penalty abolition campaign, in response to the T&T Government's desire to create additional laws that would allow them to resume sentences of hanging of convicted murderers.

The context is somewhat complicated; the last time the country carried out a death sentence was in 1999, the year that the Notorious 'Dole Chadee' and his 8 accomplices were hanged. In total, 10 people were executed that year, and since then the penalty has not been carried out. Even still, the penalty still exists as a legal option, and Trinidad & Tobago makes it a note to say that the twin-island state is not abolitionist-in-practice like other countries who have not carried out the penalty in 10 years. T&T's current Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has repeatly stated "The death penalty is the law of the land." In fact, in presenting the Capital Offences Bill, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has said that the lack of implementation for the past 10 years is what is responsible for the rising kidnapping and murder rates, despite no evidence in support of the death penalty as a deterrent.

The first thing I had to deal with was that if a digital campaign was enough. Engaging with people in the digital space is quick, easy, and less intrusive than trying to rally people during their busy lives. But when they have a chance to see the information through their own lens and at their own pace, if at all, is mobilizing information like this plausible? Also, unless there is a large amount of people to bring into the cause quickly, the movement will be painfully slow. With physical campaigns, you can bring the information home, answer questions, guide people to further information and make it personal and specially catered to the person you're talking to, making it easier to reach people on the fly. In the digital space, generic information has to be made personal for every person you want to reach. The credibility of the cause has to come from the site, what's on it and who are involved in it. That usually means many people stating their interest outrightly, and lots of content daily to show presence. And with not much being said about the small twin-island state of Trinidad & Tobago, and international examples not sure to change hearts, the question 'what do we do?' still comes up strong.

The Capital Offences Bill is a government initiative, which means that it is almost bound to pass. Another issue with digital campaigns is that something achievable is not really possible. Digital campaigns cannot succeed in lobbying government, reaching policymakers, recruiting allies or engaging with other stakeholders in any way that may actually inspire change. Instead, it just has a chance - and a small one - at changing minds with enough information. Can it cause people to make a physical movement if they are not willing to or see the initial need to before this point? And can it even do so without becoming the governing body or driving force for it?

In short, are digital activism campaigns enough?

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"Digital campaigns cannot

tettner's picture

"Digital campaigns cannot succeed in lobbying government, reaching policymakers, recruiting allies or engaging with other stakeholders in any way that may actually inspire change"
Please explain :)

I will be honest; I think

BrendonOBrien's picture

I will be honest; I think this was partially because of my dissatisfaction with previous digital campaigns done in Trinidad, or my stress with this one even though not much time has passed, but I don't think that a digital campaign is disruptive enough to gather government officials' attention, or engaging enough to get strong meaningful support except if to move information between stakeholders. I could be completely wrong - after all, it hasn't been long enough in this case to really tell - but it was something that crossed my mind.

I think that different climates respond to measures like this differently, and that they even have different shapes. In the English-speaking Caribbean at least - and I guess you and Nishant and the guys would've kinda thought about it - there aren't a lot of people that can be classified as 'digital natives'. There is also not a strong presence of activism or philanthropy, with the exception of trade union work, and it all usually becomes bought out by political power or dies out. Our idea of digital activism has always reached as far as changing a profile picture on facebook, and little more. We are a very conservative part of the Caribbean region as well, that does not respond to liberal views in anything but an aggressive or fearful manner, and does not respond to new ways of reaching people at all. I think all that changes how a digital campaign may work in that space.

I can empathize with your

tettner's picture

I can empathize with your dissatisfaction.


Like you said, it might be a socio-cultural condition and not a feature of the new practice, because online campaigns can have effects, particularly as more and more of society becomes "digitized".

This came to mind:


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