A new social media campaign has been launched to raise the plight of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. It's hoped the movement will "open people's eyes," says the movement's leader Nathan Newman.
In an interview with DW, the campaign's leader, Nathan Newman, talks about the importance of the social media #backlash campaign and need to raise awareness of the atrocities occurring in Saudi Arabia.
The campaign, which launched on June 1, aims to shed light on the punishment inflicted on people who speak out in favor of freedom of expression - such as Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
DW: What is the #Backlash campaign?
Nathan Newman: #Backlash is a 15-week social media protest which has Raif Badawi as a figurehead and symbol for the oppression the Saudi population is being put under right now.
The campaign is being run over 15 weeks. What is the significance of that?
We're looking to pick up mass momentum, essentially, and there have been a lot of great campaigns so far and a lot of support from international groups. We've found that it's created a lot of media and it's time to consolidate [all of that] and pressure folks who won't campaign. So our efforts are more long-term than maybe those of other campaigns, and we hope that by the time the 15th week comes along we'll have picked up a lot more momentum.
What is the inspiration behind the #Backlash campaign?
I come from a social media background and I think social media has made a lot of changes in society. The Internet has helped democratize information and its spread and social media has sort of accelerated it. I've seen movements and causes like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and a few others that maybe aren't as wholesome pop up over the last two or three years. And, it feels like there is a climate right now where people want to get involved in a cause and they want something which is a statement. So for us the mechanics behind the campaign were all geared around making a statement as boldly as we possibly could and to reach as many people as we possibly could.
The #Backlash campaign starts today, June 1. What do you hope it will achieve?
We have found that there is too much ignorance about the problems in Saudi Arabia and in particular how censored that country is - and how a lot of other countries turn a blind eye to the atrocities there.
We hope to achieve mass media attention. There is a lot of education we can do in terms of [explaining] the climate in Saudi Arabia right now. Everything that surrounds the Raif Badawi case is quite shocking, and we have found that it's been quite hard to get widespread media attention. What we've been getting to date has been great but we feel that it's important to take that even further, to put pressure on the Saudi regime and on the situation that is unfolding there right now.
It's amazing to see just how quickly this has taken off. Just seven days ago we had 350 interactions, which was obviously next to nothing. As of 1830 UTC today we've had 529,300 impressions across all of our (social media) accounts. Our approach and the content marketing behind what we've done so far - to go from something like 350 impressions to half a million will maybe open people's eyes a little bit more as well.
How can people do that? How can people get involved in the online protest?
It's quite simple really: All they have to do is take off their shirts, grab a lipstick and draw a lash on their back - preferably with a red lipstick so it stands there nice and bright. You can then take a picture of that lash and post it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #backlash and they can also tag us with @backlashgroup so we can see it.
It's as simple as that - if you see any other lashes, we welcome it if you share them to help spread the campaign as far and wide as possible. So far the support has been fantastic - it's been truly international, with people contributing content from countries we haven't even started to see the campaign in yet. It's been overwhelming.
There is no limit to the number of times people can participate, and we are thinking people might start nominating each other. It's one of those things, people don't want to be told what to do, but as soon as something starts to pick up you have them jumping on to what is happening and things sort of take on a little consciousness of their own.
Why are you doing the campaign now?
The anniversary of Badawi's [imprisonment] is coming up on June 17 and Ramadan is also coming up and we know that traditionally people are pardoned around that time. There is also a climate surrounding FIFA and the controversy there and it seems like it's the right time at the moment for this sort of campaign.
Nathan Newman heads the #Backlash social media campaign to raise awareness of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in May 2014 to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a major fine for insulting Islam online.