By Claire Fernandez

In February 2019, the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF) strategy meeting took place in Berlin. The meeting was the perfect occasion for experts, activists, and litigators from the broad digital and human rights movement to explore ways of working together and of levelling up the field.

The group held discussions on several methods and avenues for social change in our field, such as advocacy and litigation. Public campaigning came up as an interesting option – many organisations want to achieve massive mobilisation, while few have managed to develop the tools and means needed for fulfilling this goal. One of the breakout group discussions therefore focused on mapping the needs for pan-European campaigns on digital rights.

First, we need to define our way of doing campaigns, which might differ from other movements. A value-based campaigning method should look into questions such as: Who funds us? Do we take money from the big tech companies and if yes, at what conditions and to which amount? Who are we partnering with: a large, friendly civil society and industry coalition or a restricted core group of digital rights experts? Are we paying for advertising campaigns on social media or do we rely on privacy-friendly mobilising techniques? It was agreed that being clear on how we campaign and what our joined message is were crucial elements for the success of a campaign. A risk-management system should also be put in place to anticipate criticisms and attacks.

Second, proper field mapping is important. Pre- and post- campaign public opinion polls and focus groups are useful. Too often, we tend to go ahead with our own plans without consulting the affected groups such as those affected by hate speech online, child abuse and so on.

Third, unsurprisingly, the need for staff and resources was ranked as a priority. These include professional campaigners, support staff, graphic designers, project managers and coordinators, communication consultants and a central hub for a pan-European campaign.

Finally, we need to build and share campaigning tools that include visuals, software, websites, videos, celebrities and media contacts. Participants also mentioned the need for a safe communication infrastructure to exchange tools and coordinate actions.

At EDRi, all the above resonate as we embark on the journey of building our campaigning capacity to lead multiple pan-European campaigns. For instance, one of the current campaigns we have been involved in − the SaveYourInternet.eu campaign on the European Union Copyright Directive − has revealed the importance of fulfilling these needs. Throughout this particular campaign, human rights activists have faced unprecedented accusations of being paid by Google and similar actors, and of being against the principle of fair remuneration for artists. Despite disinformation waves, distraction tactics and our small resources, the wide mobilisation of the public against problematic parts of the Directive such as upload filters has been truly impressive. We witnessed over five million petition signatures, over 170 000 protesters across Europe, dozens of activists meeting Members of the European Parliament, and impressive engagement rates on social media. The European Parliament vote, in favour of the whole Copyright Directive including controversial articles, was only won by a very narrow margin, which shows the impact of the campaign.

The EDRi network and the broader movement need to learn lessons from the Copyright campaign and properly build our campaign capacity. EDRi started this process during its General Assembly on 7-8 April in London. The DFF strategy workshop held in Berlin gave us a lot of food for thought for this process.

This article was first published by Digital Freedom Fund (DFF): https://digitalfreedomfund.org/public-campaigns-on-digital-rights-mapping-the-needs/

(Contribution by Claire Fernandez, EDRi)