The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) established Radi-Aid to challenge mainstream communication of international development issues. Their latest campaign "How To Communicate The World" takes a humorous approach to addressing an important issue - how we represent the people and places we visit when we travel. The campaign begins with this video.
We talked to Kristin Marie Skaar from SAIH to find out what inspired this video and campaign. She told us:
When the discussion around the ethics of social media is such a hot topic in our own countries – at least here in Norway it’s a big issue concerning sharing photos of kids – why are we not supposed to think the same when we are travelling and volunteering? Also, as travellers we can have a huge impact on how other people, like our friends and family, understand and frame the world. It is our responsibility to show the world as it really is, and bring down the stereotypes.
We agree! One of the best questions to ask yourself before doing anything when you’re travelling is “would I feel comfortable doing this in my own community”? Taking photos of people or their homes is one example - if you would find it appropriate to seek consent, that same respect should be extended to the communities we visit.
We asked Kristin why she thinks that travellers sometimes do things when they're travelling that they wouldn't do at home. She explained:
It’s like the moment we step into a foreign, exotic country, everything becomes more distant, everything is like a tourist attraction. We see it all from the outside, don’t understand codes or language, and easily forget that these are people just like us. Depending on where we go, we might also think that people are not on the internet, they are not on social media, don’t understand what we are doing with our smart phones etc.
So, as GOOD travellers, what can we do to ensure that we are using photography and social media as a force for GOOD? Radi-Aid has come up with four guiding principles to ensure that you avoid the erosion of dignity and respect the right to privacy while documenting your experiences abroad.
PRINCIPLE 1: PROMOTE DIGNITY
Promoting dignity is often ignored once you set foot in another country, particularly low-income countries. This often comes from sweeping generalisations of entire people groups, cultures, and countries. Avoid using words that demoralise or further propagate stereotypes. You have the responsibility and power to make sure that what you write and post does not deprive the dignity of the people you interact with. Always keep in mind that people are not tourist attractions. Read more about this principle on the Radi-Aid website.
PRINCIPLE 2: GAIN INFORMED CONSENT
Informed consent is a key element in responsible portrayal of others on social media. Respect other people’s privacy and ask for permission if you want to take photos and share them on social media or elsewhere. Avoid taking pictures of people in vulnerable or degrading positions, including hospitals and other health care facilities. Specific care is needed when taking and sharing photographs of and with children, involving the consent of their parents, caretakers or guardians, while also listening to and respecting the child’s voice and right to be heard. Read more about this principle on the Radi-Aid website.
PRINCIPLE 3: QUESTION YOUR INTENTIONS
Why do you travel and volunteer? Is it for yourself or do you really want to make a difference? Your intentions might affect how you present your experiences and surroundings on social media, for instance by representing the context you are in as more “exotic” and foreign than it might be. Ask yourself why you are sharing what you are sharing. Are you the most relevant person in this setting? Good intentions, such as raising awareness of the issues you are seeing, or raising funds for the organisation you are volunteering with, is no excuse to disregard people’s privacy or dignity. Read more about this principle on the Radi-Aid website.
PRINCIPLE 4: USE YOUR CHANCE - BRING DOWN STEREOTYPES
When you travel you have two choices: 1. Tell your friends and family a stereotypical story, confirming their assumptions instead of challenging them. 2. Give them nuanced information, talk about complexities, or tell something different than the one-sided story about poverty and pity. Use your chance to tell your friends on social media the stories that are yet to be told. Portray people in ways that can enhance the feeling of solidarity and connection. A good way forward is to ask the local experts what kind of stories from their life, hometown, or country they would like to share with the world. Read more about this principle on the Radi-Aid website.
So next time you’re getting ready to post about your travels, Kristin encourages all GOOD Travellers to tell a different story rather than the one-sided story about poverty and hopelessness often portrayed in the media. She says:
A good way forward is to portray people in a way that resonate with our followers – situations, emotions, something that gives us a feeling of solidarity and connection, instead of pity and feeling disconnected from the reality. Use full names, places, and ask people for instance what kind of story from their hometown they would like to share with the world.
If you're getting ready to post on social media and have any doubts at all, we recommend running through Radi-Aid's checklist of questions.