Moving from the Community Centre to the Online World: Lessons in Digital Activism for MRCOs

In his post, Digital Activism: Overcome Fear and Increase Participation, Nick Micinski describes some findings from the evaluation of MRCF’s second digital activism course. Specifically, Nick notes that participants in the course faced three barriers in bringing their activism online, including:

  • Having an overwhelming fear towards technology and internet security issues, which paralysed their work online;
  • Lacking a trusted source to learn about technology;
  • And lacking a safe space that bridged online experiences to being a migrant or refugee.

In response to these barriers, MRCF’s intensive, seven-week course on blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools and skills, allowed migrants and refugees to:

  • Reduce their fear of technology and privacy;
  • Participate online for more time and through new types of online tools;
  • And identify a lack of quality digital infrastructure in their homes and workplaces.

[h4]Recommendations for MRCOs[/h4]

While these findings signal successes for the digital activism course, what do they mean beyond the walls of MRCF? Specifically, how can migrant and refugee community organisations apply these lessons to their work?

Without a doubt, migrant and refugee community organisations (MRCOs) are well situated to address the barriers that MRCF’s participants described. It is important to note that fear of technology is not a unique issue for migrants and refugees—in fact, digital inclusion research indicates technophobia is also a significant barrier for older generations without migrant backgrounds.

MRCOs have a unique opportunity to support older refugees and migrants. There is a need for MRCOs to provide trusted sources of information to their members and craft spaces where participants can explore the Internet without disregarding their identity. By relying on the trust and relationships inherent in MRCOs, community groups could create buddy programmes that link members who are nervous around the Internet with others who are more confident. By designing materials on the Internet in different languages and making presentations that focus on relevant digital topics for members, MRCOs can firmly chip away at their members’ fears of technology.

But beyond simply ‘teaching’ members to be more comfortable with technology, MRCOs must be willing to utilise digital activism themselves, even if it means that transitions will be necessary. Some course participants have cautioned that while they see the value of digital activism, their organisations are hesitant to evolve. Technologies can help cut costs, discover information, and get messages out to new audiences, but there is no magical online tool for organisational change.

To get their members to be digital activists, MRCOs must lead by example: using Facebook to communicate with members, recording meeting minutes with Google Docs, or sending out HTML newsletters with Mailchimp. By integrating digital activism into their core work, MRCO can demonstrate the benefits of technology and further their members’ engagement with the Internet.

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