Briefly, journalist Nisha Susan set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and urged women to gift pink panties to Pramod Mutalik, the head of the ultra-conservative Hindu group Shri Ram Sena, in order to shame him into backing down from his threats to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations.
The campaign has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.
The Pink Chaddi Facebook Group has been getting hacked throughout last month, and, instead of dealing with the hackers, Facebook suspended both the group and Nisha's account last week.
Before the group was suspended, the hackers changed the name of the group to ‘A Good Bong is a Dead Bong’ and posted vulgar and violent messages on the group. Over the month, the hackers had used names like ‘Nathuram Godse Appreciation Society’, ‘Dara Singh Appreciation Group’ and other vulgar names.
In an open letter to Facebook posted on Kafila, Nisha wondered if the first rule of Facebook activism is to not use Facebook.
In fact, several groups supporting and impersonating the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women have sprung up on Facebook.
While Facebook activism has become an important part of any activist's technology toolkit, it comes with its own perils.
To begin with, Facebook allows you very little flexibility in changing the design of your cause, group, page or event. Each of these options come with in-built limitations and once you have chosen one, you are wedded to it.
Facebook also gives you very little control over the content created by you or your supporters. For instance, you can't highlight wall messages as important or sticky and you can't export them.
Most importantly, you can't export the names or contact details of your supporters, so the support base you build within Facebook stays within Facebook.
Then, there is the question of the involvement of your Facebook supporters. Ethan Zuckerman has wondered if Facebook protests are glorified petitions that attract serial activists. Beth Kanter has written about the difficulty of moving casual Facebook activists to higher levels of engagement.
We have also seen in the case of Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement that Facebook activism groups come together for a specific protest, but lose the momentum thereafter.
Finally, there are serious security concerns associated with Facebook protests which have become all too clear in the case of the Pink Chaddi campaign.
Facebook groups can be hacked into, in spite of reasonable security measures, and the Facebook team is often not responsive to pleas of redressal. The FACThai Blog had written about the possibility of such attacks on the Pink Chaddi group last month and now, the attacks have really gone out of control.
Beyond the threat of hacking, detractors or even well meaning supporters can create duplicate groups, pages, causes, or events with similar sounding names, leading to confusion and a dilution of message.
So, if you are an activist, do leverage the virality of Facebook, but use it with an eye on its many limitations.
By all means, use Facebook as part of your campaign but don't build your campaign around it. Use all the social media tools at your disposal and interlink them to increase their virality. In the US, it would mean using Facebook with MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. In India it would mean using at least Orkut, apart from Facebook.
Whichever tool you use, have a plan to transition your supporters to a traditional mailing list, so that you have more control over how you communicate with them. If you have been able to build a large and vibrant community, it might even make sense to move to a proprietary social network built on Drupal or Ning. I'm not implying that such a transition will be easy, or even successful, but it's definitely worth a try.
Finally, do take basic security precautions like using strong passwords and changing them often, logging out of public computers after using them, and having more than one admin so that the group is not orphaned if your account gets hacked.
If your Facebook account, and your group, does get hacked, I guess the first step will be to try the Forgot Your Password? link, which will send the new password to your email ID, unless the hacker has already changed it.
If you are lucky, the Facebook support team will respond quickly, otherwise you would do well to quickly move on to step three, and start an online campaign to put pressure on Facebook to restore your access.
Coming back to the Pink Chaddi Campaign, Nisha Susan has taken all these three steps and still doesn't have access to her Facebook group.
If you know a way to help Nisha regain control of the Facebook group and avoid such hacking attacks in the future, do leave a comment below.
I'm convinced that someone should write a blog post titled “three steps to get your hacked Facebook activism group back”. Perhaps, we can write that post together here.