Hello beautiful people. Happy (almost) Spring. The post below is an interview I did this past summer about the use of Snapchat for raising awareness and social advocacy. I went to Athens, Greece to work as an independent volunteer, but somehow, I ended up staying 3 months. JC is the interviewer, and MM is the interviewee (a.k.a me).
This was during the time when Europe had just decided to close its borders and many refugees were stuck at Idomeni— the border of Greece and Macedonia. Slowly, many made their way back to Athens as they waited for their paperwork to be processed by UNHCR. During their wait, I worked closely with many families from different backgrounds and used Snapchat to report on their day-to-day, inclusive of happy moments and not-so-happy moments.
The video above is a saved Snapchat clip from one day of my life as an independent volunteer. Showing people where I live during my stay, what I do, and the people I meet.
The video is mostly in English, except when I'm talking to a Syrian, an Iranian or an Afghan.
JC: What inspired you to use snapchat as a form of advocacy ?
MM: Well, I used to blog about issues I cared about and write long thorough articles with facts and empirical evidence but nowadays people are becoming less and less patient with reading long text and would rather have the information fed to them. I then realized that instead of using snapchat as a platform to show what I'm eating or where I'm partying, it can be used to bring awareness to a critical issue.
JC: How successful have you been in reaching an audience or bringing an effect ?
MM: It has been an amazing snapchat journey. Ever since I started volunteering in a refugee camp a month ago, my friends and acquaintances have shared my stories and I get new followers every day. In fact, just using snapchat, we were able to fundraise over 5,000 USD and over 200 kilograms of donations.
JC: What are the intended effects of your social media advocacy outreach?
MM: Social awareness and reaching people of my age or younger. I wanted people to see "real news" and not something tainted by political agendas. Additionally, for more millennials, snapchat has become a way to gain access into the lives of the rich and fabulous celebrities with their "oh-so-perfect" lives. Celebrities and social media influencers tend to snap their curated "fabulous moments" and their hyperreal lives become a idolization for "ordinary people." Let me show someone else's everyday sans curation. I wanted my generation to be appreciative of their lives no matter what they are going through and stop comparing their lives to each other.
JC: Do you believe it has more outreach skills than standard journalism?
MM: With snapchat, you can not Photoshop or Finalcut your events. You have 10 seconds to show something and you don't have much room for digital manipulation. There's something extremely authentic about the "live" "this is happening right now" feature. People use the platform on their phones, holding it really close to their face - it almost feels tangible. It wakes people up and brings them closer to the experience.
JC: Would you consider yourself a journalist?
MM: In a way yes, trying to be as unbiased as possible. Showing both the good and the bad conditions. Sometimes people criticized me for showing "refugees smoking shisha" and I was shocked to hear their reasoning. Don't show the refugees smoking shisha and having fun, because people will think that they are living comfortable lives in the camps and won't advocate for opening the borders or send money to fund camp facilities.
Excuse me? Smoking shisha is an integral part of many cultures. It's like someone in Canada saying: "don't show a homeless person drinking Tim Hortons."
It's not a crime or a luxury to drink coffee in Canada, and it's definitely not a luxury to smoke shisha in many Middle Eastern societies. The fact that the use of shisha has been commodified in many luxury cafés around the world is a whole other issue.
In the video embedded in this post, I have deliberately included a video of them partying. At first, I didn't understand why they would dance and sing in the weekends? Were they that happy being confined to a camp and being denied access to Germany where their other family members lived? After interacting with them, and seeing things for myself, I then told myself: "Why should they not party?" - They've lost everything, they may never make it to Europe, they may never see their family, so why not just dance to forget? Everyone has different coping mechanisms, so who am I to judge?
JC: If so explain your journey to getting to this point of photography - journalism - advocacy ?
MM: I've always loved photography and being able to capture a moment to freeze it in time. Around six or seven years ago, I started with fashion photography, ventured into portrait and then started documenting more important issues. I told myself that if I have a voice, and a platform to reach people - I should be using it for a good cause.
Now, after having gone to journalism school for my master's, and learning more about the field, I am more passionate than ever, and I got really sucked into the world of news. I think my new
JC: Do you consider snapchat a efficient journalistic medium .. And why?
MM: Both yes and no. It's very quick, they are short and people aren't easy bored with it. It doesn't require any editing or dealing with large files. However, once again because of its temporal quality, if you miss it within the first 24 hours - the video is gone. You could, however, save your clips and upload it on Facebook or Youtube later on but then it loses its hot, timely factor.
JC: How do the refugees feel about you documenting their situation ?
MM: The refugees want their voices and their conditions to be heard. Most of the time, they voluntarily ask to be on camera so that the world can see their living conditions and fight for their cause. That's why journalism is so important.
JC: Do you have any comments about the nature of snapchat in first world society in comparison to third world society ?
MM: No, because good and bad conditions are found every where regardless of the government running the entity. The U.S. is considered the first world but I can use snapchat to show certain housing conditions in Detroit worse than refugee camps. I don't believe in the first world/third world dichotomy.
Perhaps, people in the West use Snapchat for more everyday purposes such as food blogging etc. I think people who can afford high gigabytes of 3G/4G internet can afford to use Snapchat. If not, then it's not an application for everyone. I feel Whatsapp is a more popular application for people of various economic backgrounds.
JC: Do you have any comments about preconceptions of intended uses of snapchat?
MM: I think the snapchat used for "sexting" or sending "dick pics" is so passé. I think the application has evolved from that stigma and is now used for so many other things. From marketing, to DIY tutorials to social advocacy. Snapchat is "the app" for this generation.
JC: Do you have any advice to pass on to those who feel the application is limited to a specific kind of social use ?
It is important to understand that most tools can be used both positively and negatively. Snapchat can be used to showcase whatever you want. Your life, the life you want to have, or the life you want to raise awareness about. It's whatever you make of it.
What do advocacy and social media apps (snapchat and others alike) have in common in your opinion ?
MM: Placing a viewfinder, up close and personal into people's lives. To show the truth, the reality, both the good and the bad.
JC: Why use snapchat in comparison to other media outlets?
MM: Because of its raw, quick nature. I don't have to worry about uploading or editing large video files. Compared to YouTube, you don't have to worry about music choice, edits, file length. Even if you make a mistake or mumble during your live stand-up, the clip is temporary so it will go away in a day.
JC: Do you feel protected by the privacy/ anonymity option of snapchat in your journalism ?
MM: No, I don't necessarily feel protected. My snapchat is public and anyone who adds my username has access to my snaps, my face, my identity and my commentaries on various situations. Viewers can form their own opinion of me and my journalism style and I respect that; to each their own, right?
Mina is a multimedia journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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