Activists use social networking to get attention in Copenhagen | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 11.12.2009
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Science

Activists use social networking to get attention in Copenhagen

Non-government organizations are using social media to spread the word on climate talks occurring in Copenhagen. But it's still too early to know if people are really listening.

Logos of Twitter and COP15

Social media helps put a human face on international conferences

If you were to walk around the Copenhagen summit, you might run into Ole Seidenberg, or any of the other 12 people in their 20s wearing bright red T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "negotiator tracker."

"This symbol of being a negotiator tracker and running around with this red T-shirt, that is somehow helping to gain access," he said. "Whereas there's like thousands of journalists here, there's just 13 trackers."

These "trackers" are employed by the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), a Canadian environmental umbrella organization, to follow the movements, statements and activities of 13 countries, including Germany, Australia, Japan and India.

Adopt A Negotiator

A delegate looks at a giant globe which displays the warming of the world's ocean

Trackers follow delegates throughout the climate talks

GCCA flew Seidenberg, a 26-year-old blogger from Berlin, to Copenhagen to tail Nicole Wilke, Germany's chief climate negotiator. Seidenberg blogs in English and German about what Wilke is up to during the conference and about Germany's negotiating position.

The Adopt A Negotiator campaign started earlier this year at the climate negotiation meetings in Bonn. It's one of the newest examples of how social networking is influencing large-scale, international meetings. The idea is to use these sites to directly connect with government officials.

"I was asking my friends on Facebook before that, and telling them: 'Look I'm going to meet Nicole Wilke, so what's your questions to our lead negotiator?' Seidenberg said. "I printed those pages directly from Facebook and asked her those questions that were asked directly by people at home."

Everyone's online

A person using Facebook

Negotiators follow social media

Negotiator trackers are just one example of how non-profit organizations and other activists are increasing their use of blogs and social networking Web sites like Facebook at international conferences like COP15, as the current climate talks in the Danish capital are known.

While Seidenberg and Adopt a Negotiator may be the most prominent example of new uses of social media in Copenhagen, other organizations have been using it to draw support to their individual causes, said Birgit Heinold, a consultant at Text100, a public relations firm in Munich.

She's been conducting a study on the effectiveness of social media by NGOs for the last five weeks and said nearly all of the major organizations are using Facebook, Twitter and other sites to get attention.

"For example on the 5th of December, Greenpeace put a big screen in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate," she said. "They used it as a Twitter wall and at the end of the day, they generated or they got 15,000 tweets. There were people in Germany sending messages to Angela Merkel and what she should focus on."

Heinold's colleague, Lars Basche, who is working with her on the study also points out that at least in Germany, some politicians are receptive to this new medium.

"What we see is that in Germany, there are a lot of politicians, mainly younger politicians participating in social media," he said. "They have blogs, they read blogs, they read Facebook, they have Twitter accounts, and they get the message from NGOs, that's for sure."

One-way street

Activists in Copenhagen

Activists tell politicians what they think but don't hear much back

But both researchers said their results are inconclusive as of yet. However, Basche added that, so far, it may not be as effective as bloggers like Seidenberg think it is.

"I didn't see any feedback from politicians, saying that 'OK, these NGOs, they're doing a lot in social media, and we have to react and have to answer them in Twitter and blogs, we do comments in blogs,'" he said. "That's not happening, really."

Other activists, like Daniel Kruse at the Berlin office of the Global Campaign for Climate Action, admit that just letting people becomes "fans" of climate change on Facebook may not be enough.

"Sometimes people just like the issues," he said. "It's easy to just click a button and say: 'Ok, I'm for climate action.' But that said, you have a few direct tools, for example a simple old newsletter to get into the inboxes of people directly, and you could approach them directly, and so there is a kind of interaction."

However, Seidenberg remains convinced that he is making a difference by putting a human face on the nitty-gritty of these negotiations. However, he's still not sure after all this time how he fits into the larger, more traditional exchange between government officials and journalists - he's somewhere in between.

"Blogs are so new to people here that they are not really knowing how to deal with us," he said. "They're like: 'Oh, you're something in between. I don't know how to handle this. I don't take you seriously. You're just a blogger.'"

Author: Cyrus Farivar

Editor: Sean Sinico

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