Cyberactivism branches out beyond just politics in Belarus

Jul 9, 2012
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Social networks dealing with local issues is hardly anything new, but in Belarus they tend to focus exclusively on politics. (an example of the latter is the revolution, organized through social networks, that rocked the streets of Minsk in the summer 2011).

However, two new social websites have made a foothold in the country and are tackling decidedly less political issues: road rage and pedophilia. Social Networks Against Road Bullies and Paedophiles: an overview of somewhat old things. Although these two movements emerged a while ago, I have not been writing about them on purpose because I wanted to see how they would develop. Here is some update of what has been happening on these social networks:

1. Стоп Хам (Stop the Bully) announced in March that it will be coming to Minsk. This Russia-wide initiative intends to expose cases of road rage by placing large, funny stickers on the front windows of misbehaving cars as well as by filming abusive drivers’ behavior on the roads and put online on the group’s page. The idea is that public attention will make people think twice before becoming abusive on the roads. In the case of Belarusian police excessive publicity really does work. People don’t like to be forced into the spotlight.

In Russia the community has 143,000 participants and is quite vibrant. Group members post videos of road hooliganism  for other members to “like” and comment on. But do these videos have any impact at all? Can they make a real impact on the persons filmed? The stickers sometimes have an effect: no one wants neighbors to see a sticker on their car describing their misbehavior.

Anyway, this nice format of users’ self-organization has not seen the same success here in Belarus. So far the Belarusian communities have failed to reach 1,000 users. Also, users might have been scared off by police remarks saying the stickers may be qualified as damage to other people’s property.

The second movement, Stop Paedophiles, creates fake profiles of 12-14-year-old children on dating sites. They wait until the profile gets an invitation from another user to meet in real life, then remind the person requesting a date about the age on their profile. If the requests to meet persist, they make “an appointment” and meet the potential paedophile. The site’s creators stress that they do not use force towards these people: they come to talk “about the behavior” and record this conversation on video which is later uploaded to the community on VKontakte. The idea is to expose potential paedophiles to the public.

The community has grown to 3,677 participants in Belarus alone, and videos appear on the group’s wall quite regularly. Its impact indeed is hard to measure, and the ethical aspects of such an approach may also be up for debate. However one thing remains clear: those people, who clearly intend to assault children, will now maybe think twice knowing that their video is in that community. And like I have mentioned before – publicity matters.

About the Author

Alaksiej Lavoncyk

Alaksiej Lavonczyk is a media activist and social media expert from Minsk, Belarus. He had been in charge of the training projects for the NGOs and media on building their capacity in online campaigning and end-user security. Alaksiej had also acted as a consulting and technical expert for NGOs and media in Belarus and four countries of Central Asia (except Turkmenistan) on upgrading media/NGO websites to meet contemporary standards, and on their promotion online. Alaksiej is also running an online training centre for the Central Asians preparing the specialists in SMO promotion.
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