By Joel Dignam
Laura O’Connell Rapira from ActionStation (Aotearoa New Zealand) ran a workshop at the conference, FWD+Organise 2019 (organised by Australian Progress), about how their organisation worked with volunteers to tackle the trolls behind online hate.
The Tauiwi Tautoko program run by ActionStation is where non-Māori take online action to support Māori. Laura went into detail on the specifics of their program, which would be useful for anyone who wanted to do a similar thing. She made it clear she’d be happy to support similar programs elsewhere. She also explained the particular approach that Tauiwi Tautoko volunteers use when engaging with online trolls. I’m particularly keen to share this component because it demonstrates some great communication principles and could be applied more broadly.
Why Tauiwi Tautoko?
ActionStation developed the Tauiwi Tautoko program to “counter the tsunami of online hate” being faced by Māori. Given ActionStation’s commitment to being “values-led” and do decolonisation work, they wanted a practical way to make a difference for Māori and also to support their Tauiwi (non-Māori) members with their own personal development.
As O’Connell Rapira put it, the program can’t, and isn’t intended to, materially reduce the volume of online hate. Ultimately, social media platforms need to take responsibility for that. Rather, it’s about taking volunteers on a journey of decolonisation to make them more effective allies*. It also improves their messaging and communication skills, helping them to unlearn poor practices and gain experience with better ways of engaging.
It is also an act of broader solidarity. It’s an attempt to shift the conversation, and offer real support. This is particularly important when an online story is about an individual who might otherwise be exposed and isolated. It’s not just an attempt to reach the people who are leaving the comments but also to reach those who are reading them (who we might think of as in the middle of the spectrum of allies). And it’s nice for Māori (and others, such as Muslims) to see that allies have their back.
The five-dimensional approach of Tauiwi Tautoko
Tauiwi Tautoko teaches volunteers a “five-dimensional” approach that combines listening with values-based messaging. The approach is focused on the power of āta whakarongo (intentional and reflective listening in the spirit of peace) and coming from a place of aroha (love).
1. Show you’re considering where the comment is coming from.
2. Demonstrate curiosity versus judgement.
3. Frame your own claims in terms of personal perspective, not universal/absolute truth.
4. Identify (progressive/intrinsic) values and vision.
5. Name a specific barrier to that vision and unite people through a call to action.
Fans of the Greek philosophers of antiquity (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) will note the Socratic approach behind Steps 1-3. Or if we want to be more contemporary, it’s like that rule from “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”: seek first to understand, then to be understood. I love these three steps because they are humbling and because they are effective. People hate being wrong in public. Telling people they’re wrong makes it hard for them to back down, and it also makes you look like a bit of a jerk. This approach is much more likely to have a positive effect on both commenters and readers.
Steps 1-3 hopefully build some understanding and rapport (and this is persuasive in itself). Then Steps 4-5 attempt to gently pivot towards some common ground and a different way of thinking. With Step 4, you try to find how different views could be stemming from the same common value. For example, someone’s opposition to affirmative action could be because they care about fairness. Then you use that same value to indicate an alternative (Step 5).
A great example of this approach is this beautiful exchange in which a gender non-conforming model engages with a mother who is initially opposed to getting a binder for her child. Rain Dove hasn’t done the Tauiwi Tautoko training, but they clearly know a thing or two about listening and curiosity. By finding shared values and common ground, they end up shifting the mother.
Unlike this person, who has evidently not taken part in the training.
This approach may seem tedious, but it’s what works. It’s probably eye-opening for the volunteers attempting to practice empathy in this way, and any reader would clearly see who is the more reasonable person in the conversation. And keep in mind: the point isn’t that Māori people should have to engage with haters in this way. It’s designed for Tauiwi who aren’t as personally exposed to demonstrate solidarity.
How the program runs
If you’re interested in this program and might want to do something similar yourself, here’s how it runs.
Participants take part in a ten-week fellowship. Initially, there is a full-day training, with a focus on whakawhanaungatanga (relationship-building). Participants share stories, eat together, learn the approach, and do roleplays. They engage deeply with issues of race and privilege. (One beautiful feature is that in Aotearoa, most people know the same Māori songs that they can sing together after emotionally intense experiences – what a beautiful way to debrief together!)
For the ten weeks following the training, participants contribute roughly two hours a week. There is a weekly webinar for “ongoing learning and community support”, in which participants hone the approach described above, and create space for collective emotional support. The work is demanding, and people need a way to renew themselves. After ten weeks, there is a half-day hui (gathering) for debriefing and reflection.
An important part of this model is the community that it creates. ActionStation doesn’t equip individuals to fight lone-wolf battles against online hate. It creates teams who support one another with coaching and debriefing. This creates a model of collective care that underpins and enables the work. In fact, people preferred this collaborative support to the option of individual therapy. You can learn more about the program design here.
- Campaigning - Digital_Virtual
- Digital campaigning
- FWD + Organise 2019 (Conference)
- Maori (New Zealand people)
- Movements_Campaigns – Racism_Racial justice
- Social media