Friday, December 07, 2007

Unsubscription Drive

Through the website of, Amnesty International UK is using a common metaphor from the digital practices of everyday life -- the unsubscribe command -- to invite participation in activism on behalf of human rights.

Although "unsubscribe" is usually associated with the contemporary quest for privacy and solitude, which can be achieved only through a reduction in the daily and hourly barrage of information that comes across a given user's computer screen, this initiative isn't about filtering out listserv postings, updates from members of social networks and online groups, news feeds, etc. Instead participants are "unsubscribing" from cooperation with government policies that tacitly and sometimes explicitly propagate torture in the name of the Global War on Terror.

The Unsubscribe campaign uses email and social media to encourage others to spread the message and build online communities that support human rights activism. As Armando Alves notes on Osocio, "With a subscription process that feels like a regular social network service, you’re invited to write your views on the subject and share it to your friends." Alves points out the irony that "most petitions ask you to sign up," but Amnesty International is asking citizens to take their names off. There is a beautiful, dynamically-generated animation of all the names that have been posted here.

Today's revelations on the front pages of U.S. national newspapers show that the CIA destroyed videotapes that documented interrogation sessions that used potentially unlawful or inhumane techniques. Unfortunately, most Americans may be more likely to join social networking sites for their pets, such as those described in "Hey Spot, You've Got Mail," than they may be to join a potentially entangling social network for their fellow human beings.

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