So you want to be an advocate. You want to help others with a cause in some way. Most advocates on the internet are volunteers, using what they know to help others. Some actually have a good relationship with schools and law enforcement; others even have some legal pull. Whichever of these you want to be, you will have to consider a few things that I strongly advise. I advise this from personal experience and events I have personally witnessed. I hope this helps you. Consider it a ‘do’s and don’ts of advocacy. I’m going to speak from the advocacy of autism, but this really does go about the same for whatever cause you support.
First of all, if you want to be an advocate with legal backing of any kind, make sure you get the education and any proper licenses you need. Take classes and obtain a degree. Don’t go out and make wild claims to puff yourself up, like claiming to be a DC Lobbyist. Things like this (all DC Lobbyists are accounted for and fully listed for the public) are easily found out and will hurt your standing as a trustworthy advocate. Be able and willing to show your credentials if you claim to be a legal advocate. The sad truth is that some people out there just want your money or to be seen as something important. They are willing to use others to achieve this. Don’t be one of them. Advocates like this can do way more harm than good.
Educate yourself on your cause as much as you can and always be ready to update that education as terms and issues change. Research, research, research, learn how to do research. The more you educate yourself, the more help you can be to others.
Aside from your working knowledge, you need to protect your image. A lot of internet advocates don’t do this. Your image is how people see you and worse, how they may choose to portray you. I can tell you that autism is as bad as politics when it comes to advocate mudslinging. There are advocates out there who see this as a competition for who you should go to. Don’t get involved in that. Let me tell you a little story, (some of you long time readers may know it already).
In late 2009, a young man with autism was restrained in his school and struggled to get free. He was charged with felony assault and the family was in turmoil. The boy’s grandmother came to the internet seeking any help she could. Advocates came together and put up a “chip in” to raise money for legal fees. During this time (into 2010) the Grandmother stated she was being harassed and investigated by a group of other “people” on the internet. I stepped in and tried to get them to stop. I tried to be Mr. Internet Hero and let me tell you something. Pay close attention to these words.
It blew up in my face. Do NOT do this.
All I did was make myself a target. I thought I should warn the autism community about my experience and that was the wrong thing to do to. I had my past dug into and slathered on the internet (20 years into my past). There was a case where I filed a suit against and an employer. Naturally they made several accusations against me to protect themselves. Those digging, took those accusations and posted them on the internet for all to see. Accusations that are not an accurate reflection of who I am were posted and they were damaging. I’ve been fortunate to have readers who know me and were able to see how much hostility were in the postings. Since then, to this day, I’ve been hounded, harassed, and even threatened. I’ve been accused of being some ringleader of white collar crime and had everyone who wants to put me in their own internet court room pop out of the woodwork. I’ve had some of the nastiest comments and postings you could ever think of posted at or about me. It’s not pretty, not nice, mature or ethical. All because I thought I was standing up for someone else.
If you want to stand up for someone’s rights, do it with the people who matter to those rights. Tell your client to block all attackers, that’s what the block button is for. And then block them yourself. Do not confront, you have no idea what kind of mentalities you will be dealing with and they will attack your image and anything else they can.
I have found that my advocacy is best done as simply giving out the information that may help others. I give advice where I can and will no longer ever engage in trying to “protect someone” on the internet. I can’t. I will give advice on what to do. Block them, ignore them, and keep up on what’s important. There are many internet advocates who go out and pull the “rallying” card to get people to shut so and so down, etc. It’s not worth it. All you’ll do is make yourself a target. Put the time into actually helping others, a far more rewarding issue. I’ve gone so far as to remove all mentions of negativity and other “advocates” or attackers from my blog for sake of being a more positive place for others. The same cannot be said for my pursuers. So learn something from my mistake, okay? Avoid the dramas the best you can.
So, hopefully, this gives you some ideas on what you should and shouldn’t do to be an advocate. Remember there are several types of advocates, research them to see what you can do best.
What other tips could you provide on how to be – or not be – an advocate?