Social media get it wrong when they criticise genuine advocacy

Wednesday March 18 2020

Advocacy groups demonstrate in various streets of Nairobi, Monday, February 5, 2018 against the switch off of 3 main television channels by the government. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Beyond the legal realm, what is advocacy to you? The dictionary describes advocacy as public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.

There comes a point in our lives when we are in a pit of despair and it feels like the world is indifferent to our pain and circumstances.

But in this moment of desperation an advocate comes to our rescue.

Advocacy takes many forms, including advocacy journalism witnessed in this newspaper in the story Families of victims of macabre killings still cling to hope published on September 29.

We have also recently witnessed the awakening of advocacy advertisement with Nike featuring Colin Kaepernick who boldly advocates against police brutality in the USA. Just last week we were reminded of the success of public advocacy with Apollo Mboya’s settlement with Kenya Power.


What do these examples have in common? Advocacy has a cause or is issue-based. Advocates can be individuals, groups or organisations.

In its purest form, advocacy is noble and takes the place of the voiceless and makes their voices heard. It empowers the weak and vulnerable in our society, making a distinct call to action to address their needs and accord their rights.

It brings the stories that we have not heard to life and to our fold and makes us pay attention.

Chiefly, it gives hopes to those advocated for and affirms that someone believes in their quest and fight. Advocacy is a moral compass, saving and changing lives.


Over and above public advocacy, its most personal form has less of an audience and most us may have been been doing it already.

The relentless doctor who advocates for the treatment for a child whose parents object to medical intervention and the treatment goes on to save the child’s life.

Or the teacher with foresight who advocates for a student who is talented when the parents are opposed to their beloved ‘wasting time’ with drama festivals.

It can also be the brave neighbour who advocates for the protection of a spouse who is constantly being abused.

This private and delicate form of advocacy doesn’t give exposure to the advocates or grant recognition.

There are no expectations from the advocate other than the right decision will be made to transform a life for the better. So why do we do it? Altruism.


The concern for others’ wellbeing. It’s exceptionally dignified and admirable that we selflessly put the needs of others before our own. But if we do this with other causes, why then can’t we take this same approach with social media advocacy?

Social media is portrayed as the devil’s advocate in the literal sense. A noble cause can be torn to shreds with negativity and toxicity.

Shouldn’t we commend those who rightly advocate for causes rather than jump the gun to immediately question their motives?

Should it be proven their motives were ill, demonising them isn’t a solution; even in rebuke there is decency.

The problem with social media is that it is often characterised by abusive language, leaving those advocating for the defenceless, vulnerable and exposed to question what they are fighting for in the first place.


Some advocates give in to the obvious distraction using the same foul language, in turn tainting their own cause.

Even bizarrely, some social media advocates justify their advocacy through foul language.

To what end? It’s highly doubtful this strengthens the fight or just makes the advocate come across as a hypocrite.

This inexplicable approach is not advocacy at all. It is unfathomable to call for support for a cause or idea and on the other hand vehemently tear down people in the process. The end does not and cannot justify the means no matter the cause you are advocating for.

Take a little time to think, in whose name are you advocating? What feelings would you illicit in them if they discovered this is how you fought for them?


No matter how challenging the fight gets, you cannot afford to reduce advocacy to a trolling blitz that takes out the fight in you and takes energy and attention away from the real cause.

Advocacy takes grit and an honest and unique work ethic. We cannot all fight the publicly visible causes but in our own capacities we can champion and support the causes immediate to us in a dignified and respectable manner.

In many ways, advocacy is embedded in the freedom of speech but, this freedom comes with responsibility.

Whatever form of advocacy you chose to support or recommend, let the cause remain at the forefront of your mind.

Ms. Burini works with an international airline on dispute resolution. [email protected]