Controversial Banksy viral using citizen video from Syria

My wife is a fine art academic and I am an academic with an interest in social media and international development, so I thought we could have a good critical debate about the content of this video which has had over 4 million views in two days. However, there was no real discussion, we both agreed almost immediately that this video trivializes a horrendous war in a humourous way. As one of the comments says “Pretty pointlessly offensive”.

Our first thoughts were, is it really Banksy, but this was confirmed by looking at his official website In true Banksy style he hasn’t commented on his work.

The blog Witness, which focuses on citizen journalism and video for change, describes the video as “an absurdist remix of Syrian citizen video, the Disney character, Dumbo and what appears to be a dramatic reenactment.” They have also tracked down some of the original footage and audio.

Around 80% of people ‘like’ the video and it has garnered hundreds of comments, many of which are offensive. Banksy has rightly gained a large following for effectively using wit in his art for political awareness. Has his mis-judged it this time, or are we missing something?

The Next Billion Internet Users

I was recently sent the infographic below about the future of the world’s internet users. As previously discussed in earlier blogs many of the new users will be coming from Asia and developing countries. Adoption is likely to be via mobile and other hand held devices. This is turn will increase social media usage and potentially influence development through mobilisation, transparency, activism, anti-corruption and a vehicle to express democratic views. With it also comes potential negatives such as hate speech, propaganda, prostitution and drug dealing.

The cyber utopians and the cyber skeptics will all have their views.

Please include attribution to with this graphic.

The Next Billion Internet Users: What Will They Look Like?

Africa for Norway – a social media viral success story

If you are interested in social media for international development many of you will have already seen the fantastic Africa for Norway video which I mentioned in a previous blog. I was interested in how this video reached 2 million views so quickly, was it traditional or social media that contributed to such a swift success? I contacted Sindre Olav Edland – Gryt, Africa for Norway’s Communication Director to try and find out and he kindly agreed to a Skype interview.

Firstly I was intrigued to know how many people were involved in the process of producing this video and was surprised to find out that over 70 people were involved including music, video production, lyrics, planning and marketing. When you consider the number of people singing in the video I suppose it’s not as surprising as I thought. But on a meagre budget of 20,000 Euros the success of this video is incredible.

Sindre explained the main goal of the creative team “We felt the need to do something different. There are so many NGOs producing video with predictable content and narratives. So many channels are providing information about Africa and other developing countries. People are getting fed up with negative stereotypes and we wanted to make something new that would grab peoples attention.”

The marketing campaign to launch the video was carefully planned. 10,000 stickers were produced and distributed through a range of ‘gatekeepers’ such as activists in a range of cities across Norway. I have an exchange student from Norway in one of the modules I teach on who said that there were stickers everywhere within the University – in corridors / noticeboards / backpacks etc – you couldn’t miss them. The team also contacted online activists via social media, specifically Facebook. A key to their success was a post on the popular Africa is a Country blog which was achieved through a tweet to their account. Little did they know that they had mutual contacts at the blog – it’s a small world! Via this contact the media storm snowballed and within a couple of days an article on the Guardian and a tweet from BBC Have Your Say twitter account. Since then Africa For Norway has received global media coverage and last week presented at TEDx Barcelona.

With my keen interest in social media and ‘celebrity advocacy’ I asked Sindre whether celebrity outreach was considered in their strategy – a bit ironic I know considering the narrative of the video. It wasn’t, but it hasn’t stopped support from a range of celebrities and politicians tweeting about the campaign and aiding it’s success.

Africa for Norway’s Youtube stats suggest that their video is most popular with 35-54 year olds. Their Facebook insights reveal that their largest group of followers are 25-34 year old females (17%), followed by 25-34 year old males (14.4%). Could it be that the video speaks loudest to the “Band Aid Generation”.

So why was it a success? Well, firstly it’s different, creative and funny. All three of these factors are key ingredients for ‘shareability’ – as I like to call it. What has it achieved? Hopefully it has opened the eyes of some NGOs to the power of producing something different. The power of creativity. Sindre commented “There are a few small NGOs making different and exciting types of development videos. We hope we can help shift the communications of larger humanitarian organisations such as UNICEF.”

I asked what’s next for Africa for Norway. There’s been a lot of creative brainstorming going on and a lot of networking with similar minded organisations. They definitely don’t want to be a one hit wonder but recognise the age old problem of the 2nd album syndrome.  I have no doubt that their 2nd album will be as successful. It is obvious from speaking to Sindre that they have learned a great deal from their experience and have carefully taken note on how to improve next time.

Thanks for Sindre for answering my questions so thoroughly and honestly. It was a pleasure talking with you!


Live Below the Line and Social Media

Yesterday I met with Stephen Brown from the Global Poverty Project who manages the Live Below the Line Challenge in the UK. Last month I wrote another blog post about the campaign as I was undertaking a trial 5 day challenge.

Live Below the Line has been running in the UK now for 4 years. Last year they raised £500,000 for several charities, the year before it was £188,000. I’ve been fascinated with this campaign ever since I first heard about it a few months ago as I think it’s an excellent way to combine fundraising with awareness raising. I asked if I could meet up with Stephen to discuss two areas that interest me the most: social media and celebrity advocacy.

Below the Line have two main aims for this years campaign: participation in the challenge and raising brand awareness. For deepening engagement and brand awareness they target the national media, and to encourage participation they target the local/regional media. Nationally they are very interested in publications such as Heat Magazine and the Daily Mail as they hope to change mainstream perceptions on aid. I asked Stephen if he feels that celebrities are important for non-profit organisations to deliver their message. He believes that in order to get coverage from the mainstream media it is essential to have celebrity support otherwise they simply aren’t interested. For example, they managed to get coverage by the Daily Star this year as they had a small quote from Gordon Ramsey who had made a recipe for their website. They also had potential coverage by Channel 5, Sky TV and Sky News – that was until they realised that they had no ‘A’ list celebs taking the challenge. I’ve worked with, and in, the media for a long time, but I didn’t quite realise how shallow they can be. Below the Line have tried to get celebrity supporters but they insist that they must take the challenge. It is important to them that the celebrity has integrity and cares deeply about the cause. This makes their agents/publicists nervous who are often risk adverse when it comes to their clients ‘public brand’. Securing a top celebrity is a key milestone for next year.

So what about social media. Last year 11% of their participants signed up for the campaign via social media. A lot lower than I thought. However this year that number is already up to 18% and they have employed a paid intern specifically to manage their Facebook and Twitter channels. On Twitter they engage with their audience, retweet stories, hold competitions etc. They also actively contact celebrities and politicians on Twitter to see if they can raise awareness. Melanie C tweeted about the campaign on their launch date and she has 373,392 followers.


This year they’ve produced a Facebook App which has recipes from celebrity chefs and also allows you to upload and share your own recipes. Participation is not great at the moment but there’s still time. They also have a video due for release the week in April from the makers of the #danceponydance viral.

I’m surprised that the Below the Line campaign hasn’t spread more on social networks. It’s a quirky challenge and I thought it would attract a young demographic who would then share the challenge with their friends.


Can Ricky Gervais’s irony save the world?

With the recent video’s by Mama Hope and Africa for Norway it seems like there is a new genre of ironic videos being produced for International Development. The first ridicules Hollywood stereotypes of African Men and the other is a parody of Band Aid/Live Aid. On the eve of Comic Relief Day I stumbled across a video by Ricky Gervais sketch from the 2007 event. I don’t want to spoil the sketch, so here’s your opportunity to watch it first – see below.

So what did you think? I think it’s very funny and 1,728 people on YouTube seem to agree. The video has had over 500,000 views and has only received 55 ‘dislikes’. I sat down and read all of the comments on YouTube to see if I could get a sense of what people think it is trying to achieve? The vast majority of the comments are merely praising Ricky and others for their “comic genius”. Jamie Oliver has won over a new audience, with several people saying they didn’t like him before, but now they’ve changed their mind. I’m sure that the sketch encouraged people to pick up the phones and donate some money. But did it change anyone’s perceptions international development and the lives of people in other countries?

Out of the 400-500 comments that I read there are only a handful of people discussing the content of the video other than its “comic genius”. Comments like “What he’s getting at is the celebrity’s [sic] do these appeals just to raise their profile. Ricky Gervais does a lot for charity and gives a lot to charity.” and “Genius. Gervais subtly deals with the whole concept of Comic Relief and how it is ironically saturated by self-indulgent and outrageous tokenism. Underlying this piece, for me, is the message: millions of pounds isn’t the answer and NEVER will be; human action is of more value than every [sic] can be.”

In her recent academic book, ‘The Ironic Spectator, Lilie Chouliaraki argues that humanitarian communication has shifted from being based on pity (e.g. the images of distant suffering used during Live Aid), to being based on irony (the spectacle of others like ‘us’ to elicit self-reflection). She suggests that this shift is a result, in part, of attempts to overcome a perceived sense of compassion fatigue amongst the public (generated through previous ‘poverty porn’ campaigns). It is also due to the explosion of mass self publication that social media has enabled.

If the reaction to the above Ricky Gervais video is anything to go by, it looks as though irony does (or at least can) work. The three videos in this blog have received 500,000, 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 views and feedback on YouTube is extremely positive. But whether these videos are wholly effective depends on their goals. If their goal is to encourage views / clicks or donations, then we might regards them as successful. But do they really provide us with a meaningful way of engaging with the other? Do these videos merely highlight the seemingly irresolvable tension in humanitarian communications between fundraising and raising awareness?