Yusuf Omar of Hashtag Our Stories leads the mobile storytelling revolution | Global Media Forum | DW | 04.04.2018
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Yusuf Omar of Hashtag Our Stories leads the mobile storytelling revolution

The co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories speaks to DW about the power of social media, the #MeToo movement, and the mobile storytelling revolution.

Global Media Forum Yusuf Omar (DW/K.Danetzki)

Yusuf Omar demonstrating mobile reporting at last year's Global Media Forum

Global Media Forum speakers Yusuf and Sumaiya Omar are leading the charge of the mobile revolution. The two co-founded Hashtag Our Stories, an initiative that empowers marginalized communities around the world to tell their stories through mobile video. Here Yusuf Omar speaks to DW about how mobile storytelling is leveling the playing field.

How can mobile storytelling be used as a great equalizer for underserved communities?

From the Arab Spring in the Middle East to the Black Lives Matter protests in America, people are using mobile videos to witness and document the injustices of our time. If the pen was mightier than the sword, mobile phones are our atomic agent of change. The beauty of social media platforms is that they really can be a level playing field. If you've got a powerful story to tell, almost nothing can stop you going viral. In that way, DW has just the same chance as the vlogger sitting at home in his underpants of being heard. A woman on the streets today has never had more potential for her voice to be heard. And that's how #MeToo and so many other movements started. The mobile storytelling revolution to empower underserved communities is already happening whether we like it or now. The question now is that's the role of the media in 2018 when publishing has been democratized and the mainstream press no longer own a monopoly on storytelling?

Can you give me an example? Tell me about an experience where you witnessed this taking place.

About nine months ago, I taught a group of Indian waste pickers (garbage recyclers) how to document what's going on around them with Instagram’s Stories feature, but as they didn't produce any content for months, I was convinced the project had failed.

In July this year, however, the Indian government introduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which directly impacted the waste pickers’ livelihood, pushing them to make use of their mobile storytelling skills. Out of nowhere we started seeing #GSTwaste pop up on our timelines and it was these very Indian waste pickers who, when nobody was listening to them in their most dire moments, were using their cameras to communicate what was happening. And Indian media ended up picking up those voices and using that to create stories. Through a bunch of factors, including lobbying by civil society and NGOs, the Indian government recently reduced the GST taxes on recyclable plastics.

In your view, what are the factors that contribute to fostering inequality? And what are technological innovations doing to level the playing field, so to speak?

The marginalized have often been silenced by gatekeepers. The media are gatekeepers, civil society are gatekeepers, big business are gatekeepers. There are always powers which amplify voice and others which muffle voice. Voice is now a commodity and I'm most excited about technologies which bring more people into the voice economy.

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