Global response to Colenso censorship campaign (updated)

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Saturday was World Day Against Cyber Censorship and in a unique partnership Amnesty International and AdBlock combined to deliver 156,789,119 impressions of messages by prominent privacy and free speech advocates Edward Snowden, Ai Wei Wei, and Pussy Riot in a campaign conceptualised and brokered by Colenso BBDO.

The result: Amnesty International experienced their highest ever daily web traffic.

For 24 hours AdBlock served banners with messages from these three influential individuals where they would normally remove banners altogether. During this period it’s estimated that over 50 million internet users were reached with these thought-provoking messages speaking out against the dangers of cyber censorship.

At the heart of ad block usage is the users’ desire to tailor their online experience, but for many people around the world, their online experiences are tailored by what their governments are willing to let them see. This made this channel the perfect way to share quotes and information from Snowden, Ai Wei Wei, and Pussy Riot, who are heavily censored themselves, to be broadcast across the internet whilst creatively bypassing a number of current censorship restrictions.

San Francisco-based AdBlock ceo Gabriel Cubbage explained why the company got behind this campaign: “People use AdBlock for a number of reasons but ultimately no one except you has the right to control what shows up on your screen, or who has access to the contents of your hard drive. Not the websites, not the advertisers, not the ad blockers. And not your government, either.”

This is a view which is shared by London-based Salil Shetty, international secretary general at Amnesty International: “Some states are engaged in Orwellian levels of surveillance, particularly targeting the lives and work of the people who defend our human rights – lawyers, journalists and peaceful activists. This continuing development of new methods of repression in reaction to increased connectivity is a major threat to our freedom of expression.”

Started by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, the day raises awareness of censorship of online freedom of expression. During the day-long campaign hundreds of thousands people visited the Amnesty International site and viewed the full content, with the majority of these clicks coming from Russia, one of the most censored countries in the world.

“As well as that,” said Shetty, “we generated massive global media coverage in multiple markets that are usually censored by their own governments, including China, and the campaign has been reported about in highly influential publications including The Guardian, ABC news, Fortune and Billboard.

“And most importantly, the truth found its way in front of tens of millions of people across the world.”

The world was too lax about the impact of the Internet on privacy and free speech,” he said. “We now need a radically new approach to protecting online rights, before the next wave of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence.”

Colenso digital planning director Neville Doyle said: “World Day Against Cyber Censorship is enormously important, and something we are very proud to be involved with. We wanted to help support this day and draw attention to it by doing something innovative that would get the world talking about what cyber freedom really means in 2016.

“With Amnesty International experiencing record levels of web traffic as a result of this campaign this is something we feel we have achieved.

“Colenso BBDO hopes that by using creative, previously unexplored ways of freeing information, they can help bring attention to what is becoming a major threat to freedom of expression.”

From here Amnesty International is calling on the world to get behind their latest campaign Connection Denied, with the aim to stop cyber-censors in one of the world’s most repressed countries, North Korea.


Client: Jane Clancey, Amnesty International UK
Partner: Gabriel Cubbage, CEO, AdBlock.
Agency: Colenso BBDO
PR: Colenso BBDO and Porter Novelli Auckland

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