A Digital Storm is an online event mobilising the public to email, call, text and post comments to a corporate or government target. Through this online ‘storm’ small or large groups of people can pressure targets into action.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic came a new push to provide opportunities for people to take action online. One online action that became popular was the ‘Digital Storm’. Across Australia, activists took to their keyboards to send a ‘digital storm’ of emails, phone calls and social media posts.
The Stop Adani campaign used this tactic to great advantage. Local groups and activists were encouraged to set up regular digital storms to target firms planning to invest in Adani coal mining related activities: Bank of New York Melon, HSBC, J P Morgan, BlackRock, Mitsubishi UFG and the State Bank of India. The success of digital storms in influencing campaign targets and making activism more accessible means that digital storms are now here to stay.
What is a digital storm?
A digital storm is an event, usually held online, where people share messages about an issue with a corporate or government target. Often also called an ‘hour of power’, an organising group creates a list of contact details for the action target, along with a series of key messages that participants can include in their messages. These contact details can include the phone numbers, email addresses, social media sites, online contact forms for the target audience, and are usually shared by the organising team at the beginning of the digital storm event.
How is a digital storm organised?
Decide on the details
Digital storms can be organised by individuals or by an activist group. The first step is to decide what organisation the digital storm will target, and when it will be held. While most digital storms take place online via Zoom, some groups also like to hold their storms in person. The main details are:
- Who – who is the digital storm target?
- Where – will the digital storm event be online or offline?
- What – what is the digital storm asking the target to do?
- When – when will the digital storm be held?
An example of a digital storm promotional website – in this example the opportunity to tweet directly from the page is enabled. Digital Activist. “Just Twitter” https://digital-activist.org/docs n.d. Photograph: 25 September 2022
Get the info
Once those key points are decided, organisers then need to identify the emails, phone numbers, social media pages and any other online information (such as contact pages on websites) that participants can use to send their message. It is also very helpful to have a list of key talking points available for participants that they can cut and paste into their emails and messages.
If the digital storm event is to be held online, the organiser needs to have a Zoom or other videoconferencing software account. The link to the online call can then be shared around through e-newsletters, emails, or word of mouth. The digital storm details can also be posted as a Facebook event, shared on other social media sites, and promoted to other environmental groups around the country. Some organisations may offer support and training to new organisers about how to run a session; otherwise look below for resources and guides.
The Stop Adani campaign offered training sessions for digital storm organisers. Stop Adani. “Digital Storm Training” https://www.stopadani.com/digi_storm_training 6 September 2021. Photograph: 25 September 2022
Do the storm
The digital storm event itself can be structured or unstructured. Structured digital storms might first start with an introduction and talk by the organiser, then give 10 minutes slots of time to work through sending messages through a list of emails, social media sites and other channels. Then the digital storm can be wrapped up with a discussion around any responses that participants received. Unstructured digital storms can just begin with providing participants with a list of contact details and key message points, and then let them take it away!
This Stop Adani team held a small ‘hour of power’ sending messages to Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock investment fund regarding their support for fossil fuel projects. Permission for reuse granted by Stop Adani campaign
Take a pic!
When the digital storm has ended it is useful to get a photo of participants holding a message directed at the target. This photo can then be used in emails and social media posts sent to the target after the event. Just make sure that everyone has given permission to use their image in the messages.
Finish with followup
After the digital storm it is great practice to get people to sign up for future actions. You can invite them to join your group, start a digital storm team with you, or add their name to e-newsletters and meeting details.
What equipment do you need for a digital storm?
Given its online nature, digital storms require access to a computer or smartphone. To help build a sense of community, digital storm organisers will often try to get a small team together via Zoom, which means that participants must know how to connect onto a Zoom call.
People without a computer should also be able to dial in from their phone. They can then write letters or use another phone to call target numbers during the storm.
As well as this physical equipment, digital storms require a list of contact details for the target and a list of key messages for participants to use.
Resource requirements for an online digital storm:
- Zoom link
- List of target contact details (emails, social media pages etc) to share with participants
- List of key asks that participants can copy and paste into messages
What resources are available to help organise a digital storm?
While many groups have used digital storms since the advent of the digital age, the tactic was popularised en masse by the Stop Adani campaign. This campaign not only enabled activists to post their digital storm event on a shared event website, it also provided detailed guides to set up, promote and celebrate the event.
The Stop Adani campaign provided a detailed list of guides for organising a digital storm. Reference: Stop Adani. “Host a Digital Storm”. https://www.stopadani.com/host_a_digital_storm. No date. Photograph: 29 September 2022
Also called a ‘social storm’, and ‘digital jam’, a number of organisations offer guides and resources about how to organise a digital storm. Here are some examples:
- Stop Adani guide to running a digital storm
- Digital Activist ‘How to build a Social Storm’ (note you may have to request access, and this provides a detailed guide for organising an action on a specific platform)
In addition, some groups provide tips about how to engage in online activism more generally. For example, Amnesty International’s guide ‘Using Digital Tools for Activism’ provides advice on enhancing activism by using digital tools, as well as how to stay safe and protected online.
What have digital storms achieved?
It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which digital storms generate change, particularly when they are combined with a variety of other online and offline actions. The Stop Adani campaign held more that 210 actions such as digital storms, and over 100 companies have ruled out working with Adani.
Outside of Australia, a case study of Fossil Free Uppsala student-led campaign suggests that after countless offline actions, a globally supported twitter storm combined with a theatrical action finally gained the universities’ attention.
More generally, a number of outlets have written about the rise of digital activism, and attempted to ascertain how successful it is compared to offline actions. Here are some articles for future reading:
- “The Second Act of Social Media Activism”, Jane Hu, The New Yorker, 3/9/2022
- “How to ensure your online activism has an offline impact”, Natasha Pinon, Mashable, 3/12/2019
What are the benefits of a digital storm?
A team of volunteers called people who had organised digital storms during 2021 to find out what went well and what was difficult. A total of 43 people were interviewed, who had together organised over 40 digital storms. These people named a range of benefits of digital storms which went beyond what they can achieve for a campaign. The top five benefits of a digital storm were:
- Having fun
- Meeting new people
- Giving a group energy
- Connecting with others
- Making a difference
Other benefits included offering more accessible access to activism, and enabling people to remain involved in the campaign even when locked down during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Facebook post offering opportunity to post a question to Blackrock as part of a Stop Adani digital jam. Stop Adani. “Digital Jam” Facebook 14 July 2021. Photograph: 25 September 2022
Of the 43 people who had organised a digital storm, 34 said they would organise one again. Organising their first digital storm helped build confidence; this was especially true of digital storms as they can be organised even with just two participants. In fact, the average size of a digital storm was 9 attendees, meaning that people could organise them with friends and family and still feel that their efforts were making a difference.
What are the challenges associated with a digital storm?
Most challenges related to using technology. For example, one organiser found that the Zoom link would not allow them to share their screen with contact information on it. Another found that participants needed help to feel confident finding the right sites to post comments on.
The second most common challenge was linked to increasing participation. Some people were uncertain about the effectiveness of digital actions and therefore did not rsvp for the events, while others rsvp’d and did not show up. Luckily, even with just a small turnout these events can be highly successful, and are therefore being used more frequently by other groups around Australia.
- LGBTI activists create a Twitter storm for EU infringement procedures against Poland over so called ‘LGBT-free Zones’, 2021
- Zoom Meetings Host Guide (ACF)
- How to Organise an Online Picket (VTHC)
- Tactics that work with Physical Distancing
- Digital Campaigning resources in the Commons Library
- Campaigning - Digital_Virtual
- Digital campaigning
- Digital_Social storm
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti mining - Adani (Coal mine)