5 Examples of Transmedia Activism
While there are numerous examples demonstrating the thoughtful use of digital media for advocacy, there are a select number of cases where organizations and activists are using multiple digital platforms and distribution channels to connect, educate and inspire supporters. These instances can be referred to as “transmedia activism.”
The concept of “transmedia storytelling” was first developed by University of Southern California professor and former Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program Henry Jenkins in 2007. Jenkins describes transmedia storytelling as “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.” (Learn more about the concept by reading his post in its entirety.)
Consultant Lina Srivastava, who focuses on employing strategy, engagement and the use of cultural assets to create and demonstrate social impact, has taken Jenkins’ concept and applied it to the field of activism. She writes:
"There is a real and distinct opportunity for activists to raise awareness and influence action by distributing content through a multiplatform approach, particularly in which people participate in media creation.
Looking at this issue in the simplest of terms, “transmedia activism” is one of the best ways to have people connect to a cause, by exposing them to a variety of media properties over various distribution channels—which opens up avenues for dialogue and provides an audience an educational experience about workable solutions—and then working with the most creative and engaged audience segment to facilitate the creation of their own content that further explains the cause and inspires action around it."
This type of activism values the co-creation of content and the distribution of that content through a variety of channels. Given the ease of creating and editing your own video these days, along with the popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube, Blip, Vimeo and Daily Motion and the availability of numerous social media outlets, there are endless possibilities to sharing content, getting messages across and connecting personal stories to a broader campaign.
EXAMPLES OF TRANSMEDIA ACTIVISM
We’ve rounded up a list that represents strong examples of transmedia activism, where activists have used multiple platforms to share their causes and gain supporters and are using media is a productive way to create social impact. The groups and individuals mentioned below have also been leaders in fostering the co-creation of content, risking a loss of control in order to spread the word and to create dialogue around an issue area.
I Am This Land
I Am This Land is a campaign launched by Breakthrough, “an innovative, international human rights organization using the power of popular culture, media, and community mobilization to transform public attitudes and advance equality, justice, and dignity in India and the United States” to celebrate diversity. According to the site, “I Am This Land is a response to a year of divisive rhetoric; it is Breakthrough’s call for a more positive and open-minded future for our country. The new year provides the opportunity to celebrate our diversity and recommit to building a society that values dignity, equality and justice.”
To engage citizens, the campaign asks people to make short videos about diversity and include the phrase “I am this land.” Viewers who watch the videos can vote on the one that they like the best; winners can receive prizes, including a top prize of $2,500. The contest began in mid-November and runs through January 7, 2011.
This effort is the latest in a series of campaigns Breakthrough has spearheaded. Bell Bajao called on men and boys in India to take a stand against domestic violence by uploading their personal videos to the campaign’s website and contributing stories to the site’s blog.
As part of the I Can End Deportation campaign, Breakthrough invited young people to play an online game that illuminates the issues of unfair detention and deporation around the world.
Half the Sky Movement
The Half the Sky movement was launched following the release of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book of the same name, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. In the book, Kristof and WuDunn argue their case for investing in the health and autonomy of women around the world through the combination of individual women’s stories and their own advice.
The movement's website has an active forum and also shares an extensive list of organizations and ways citizens can get involved in supporting women’s rights. They will soon be adding an interactive game component with partner Games for Change.
The movement has also inspired local “chapters,” including this Facebook page for people in Portland, Oregon, who are working for change.
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization that focuses on protecting and enjoying oceans, waves and beaches around the world. Since it’s founding in 1984, the California-based foundation has seen tremendous growth. It now has over 50,000 members and 90 chapters worldwide. Members have participated in over 200 community outreach campaigns, 600 beach clean-ups, and over 8,000 water tests.
While the foundation has its own official channels/pages on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media outlets, they also have an extensive network of local chapters that work on their own. The foundation embraces the “do-it-yourself” culture and each local chapter is given the liberty to engage in advocacy work as it sees fit. Most chapters have their own individual Facebook pages where local members coordinate events and share information.
There are also a number of YouTube channels and video uploads from individual chapters and members. A simple YouTube search of “Surfrider chapter” comes up with 94 hits. Here's a video from Surfrider's Miami chapter about their participation in a protest against offshore drilling in Florida:
It Gets Better Project
After a series of suicides by young gay teens in the United States, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage and his partner Terry created a YouTube video to inspire hope for young people facing harassment and bullying. Their message to young gay and lesbian adolescents: It gets better.
In just a few months, the It Gets Better Project has grown tremendously - over 5,000 supporters (both gay and straight) have created their own videos. Well-known celebrities, politicians and personalities like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Janet Jackson, and Glee castmembers have filmed personal messages. The vast majority of videos, however, have come from average people around the world.
On the site, visitors can tell their own “It Gets Better” stories via video or the written word. The site (and related Facebook and YouTube pages) has become a powerful community for sharing stories, offering support, and providing resources for teens. A Google map of the videos shows just how far around the world the message has spread.
Mark Horvath has a mission: to share the stories of the homeless across the United States.
Mark, who was once homeless himself, works to empower people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness by sharing their stories on Invisible People. By capturing their stories, Mark hopes to bring attention to the issues of homelessness.
Viewers of videos on Invisibile People’s YouTube channel are encouraged to reflect on what they’ve seen, share their thoughts and brainstorm ideas for change.
Through his other initiative, We Are Visible, Mark provides resources for the poor and homeless to learn how to use social media tools. The site provides simple lessons for using tools like email, Facebook and Twitter.
The Transmedia Activism website provides activists and content creators with a framework to be strategic and proactive in the use of media to create social impact. Be sure to check out our different how-to guides about using video for advocacy.
The examples above are just a few instances of transmedia activism. Do you have other examples of great transmedia projects? Do share them below in the comments section!