Civil Rights Defenders: Social Power for International Pressure


The addition of social media functionality to various existing products is de rigeur nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that all uses of social media are simply hopping on the bandwagon. The personal alarm bracelets developed by Civil Rights Defenders are an example of how joined-up-thinking that takes the particular capabilities of social media into account can add real value and, potentially, save lives.

Early April saw the launch of a new personal alarm that uses the immediacy and reach of social media to give a timely awareness of kidnapping. The alarm, launched by Civil Rights Defenders, was developed in response to the tragic case of Natalia Estemirova. This civil rights activist, working on human rights abuses, was abducted in Chechnya in 2009. Less than 24 hours later her body was discovered in woodland.

The personal alarm from Civil Rights Defenders enables rapid dissemination of a kidnap on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to using social media to spread word of the abduction, the bracelets also include a GPS which gives the location of the activist at the time the alarm was sent. The hope is that this widespread publicity and capacity for instantaneous sharing and awareness building will put pressure on regimes to work towards the release of the victim. Civil Rights Defenders also hopes that the existence of the alarms may discourage kidnaps from taking place. The speed with which news, memes and information can go viral on Twitter and Facebook is now common knowledge. Rather than using this power to share funny videos and pictures of amusing cats, Civil Rights Defenders wishes to use social power for real and necessary change.

While the first batch of these alarm bracelets have been produced, the organization hopes to create and distribute many more, and is seeking funding for further production. Their aims are achievable, with plans to give out 55 such alarms in the next 18 months. To support their cause, visit