Activists and NGOs are likely to convert physical protests into digital ones as they adapt their strategies and tactics for the current environment, a new report claims.
The lockdown could also re-establish the pre-eminence of established NGOs who have had their thunder stolen in recent years by radical groups, such as Extinction Rebellion, currently stripped of their power to mobilise mass demonstrations.
Sigwatch, which tracks and analyses activists’ actions, predicts that NGOs, who had been planning major protests from late March onwards in the run up to climate talks in Glasgow in November, will not sit on their hands.
Many upcoming climate actions will now take the form of social media protests rather than planned mass demonstrations. Initially, these will likely have minimal effect but could grow in size and importance.
Robert Blood, founder of Sigwatch, explains: ‘Few companies are likely to panic in the face of a larger than usual rush of hostile tweets from their known critics... but as digital protesting becomes the only way to make some noise, it will surely grow in size and impact.’
With the news agenda focused on COVID-19, NGOs are unlikely to launch new campaigns but instead will focus on existing priorities. They have already started lobbying against no-strings bailouts for industries that they traditionally oppose, such as oil, gas and aviation.
The report also predicts that NGOs will share lists and form digital alliances to try to reach far more people than usual on social media. The more aggressive groups may also consider digital sabotage, such as hijacking and defacing corporate websites and Facebook groups, or even obstructing communications through server blockades.
Sigwatch also expects NGOs to turn to litigation and petitions. ‘Just the initiation of lawsuits against prominent targets is good for a few headlines (once wall-to-wall COVID-19 coverage has died down) even if the suspension of the courts delays actual hearings,’ says Blood.
They may also increase their use of online petition platforms to garner public support, particularly as the EU officially recognise petitions, if signed by enough people, as justification for new laws and regulations.
Blood adds: ‘Activists are never short of creativity. They will find ways to get under the skins of CEOs and politicians... they will be able to take advantage of the millions of bored people stuck at home, looking for a bit of excitement and some interaction with fellow humans’.