I have a particular conundrum that I am struggling with vis-a-vis Social Media. Here is some background to start. Please forgive me if this post is somewhat lengthy.
I am presently doing some work for the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat (IRSAS), which hears complaints about abuse suffered by former students, and determines if — and how much — compensation should be awarded to them.
For those of you who not are aware about Indian Residential Schools (sadly this seems to be most Canadians), the federal government had a policy of forcibly removing Indian children from their families and schooling them at institutions that were co-managed by churches. The goal was to assimilate Aboriginal people by “removing the Indian from the child.” Over 150,000 students attended Indian Residential Schools starting in the late 1800s. The last school closed in 1996. Students were not allowed to speak their languages or practice their culture. Many students were horribly abused at the schools — accounts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse are widespread, well documented and widely corroborated.
In 2007, as part of the largest class action suit in Canadian history, the Courts set up IRSAS, one of several components of a comprehensive settlement agreement for former students of Indian Residential Schools.
Communicating with claimants has been a challenge. For one, they are mostly elderly, and generally have a low level of literacy. In many cases they do not speak English or French. Many live in remote areas where Internet connections are difficult (if they have access to a computer). About 85% are represented by lawyers, which means we cannot communicate directly with them — we must work through their counsel. Many of the claimants are emotionally fragile as a result of the abuse they suffered; there is a high level of alcoholism and substance abuse. Many of our urban claimants have lived on the streets or have been incarcerated. In short, not an easy audience to reach.
So, I find myself wondering whether to invest in Social Media as a tool to reach them, and what type of content would resonate. There are several hurdles to overcome. First, the need for confidentiality — as an organization we cannot even confirm or deny whether an individual is a claimant under our process because of the nature of abuse they suffered, which was frequently sexual. Literacy is another issue — basic literacy and computer literacy. And, there are limited funds — communications are already stretched thin in an organization that communicates primarily on a reactive basis rather than pro-actively. So, do we spend more money and adopt SM? What is is our ROI in a process that will end in four years, once all of the claims have been heard?
In terms of content, I think it must be very simple, and accentuate what claimants can do if they need help. In formulating a SM strategy, I am considering two, perhaps three vehicles. YouTube will help us get around the literacy issue, but quality video is expensive to produce. We have invested in a professionally produced film that we will distribute on a YouTube channel, but I don’t see the capacity to produce many more. If we are able to produce anything else, it will likely simply be a few short video clips. I’d love to have claimants who have been through the process talk about their experience, but most are reluctant to speak publicly of the abuse they suffered.
I am also considering Facebook and Twitter, but our strategy would be to use these tools to target those who help and support claimants — their children, family members, health support workers, counsel, Friendship Centres and others that work with Aboriginal People. Our goal with these tools would be to listen, educate and drive traffic to our website, where additional information is available.
I am aware that Twitter was used to great effect in Idle No More movement, and that young Aboriginal People are well connected through Social Media.
We would start by doing some active listening through various channels to determine how and where we could best intervene. The strategy is coming together in my head, my client seems open to the idea of delving into Social Media, but I have no clue on the amount of resources would be required — I have to think it would take at least one person working a third to half time to make any type of impact. I’d appreciate any thoughts you may have on this!
BTW, I remain shocked and saddened that so few Canadians are aware of this sad chapter in our history. If abuse of this magnitude were to occur to any other group in Canadian society there would be outrage and quick action. Most observers acknowledge the IRS system as the root of the many social problems that our Aboriginal People experience today. Can you imagine never receiving a hug as a child? Or never having your birthday celebrated? Not being able to speak your language, being robbed of your culture, your heritage, your way of life? I encourage you all to educate yourselves about this issue, because reconciliation with our First People is everyone’s responsibility, and will make us a stronger country.