Since 2004, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed an estimated 3500+ people, a disturbing percentage of which have been innocent civilians. Including more than 200 children. Reprieve/FFR has been working to raise awareness of this crisis. Drone operators routinely describe their casualties as 'Bug Splats' since viewing a human from far above gives the sense of an insect being crushed.
Our strategy was to not only address pilots directly and create dialogue, but also raise awareness globally of this ignored human-rights issue. A large-scale portrait of an affected child was laid on the ground facing up in the heavily bombed area of NorthWestern Pakistan, so a drone camera could capture and transmit it to an operator's screen. To raise awareness, the campaign - part of French artist JR's Inside Out movement - was put online with the hashtag #NotABugSplat and a website with information about drone strikes.
We went viral overnight, globally. Thousands of tweets, dozens of blogs, and massive coverage in the world press spread awareness rapidly. 104 million impressions in the news and 11 million impressions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram helped us gain $2,000,000+ in earned media. The news was tweeted by members of National Assembly of Pakistan, who have raised the concern of drone strikes with the International Court of Justice. Rights activists in Yemen and USA are planning to replicate the idea. A new US Government Accountability report indicates that negative publicity is affecting pilot morale and analysts believe the drone program seems to have ended in Pakistan.
The goal was twofold: not only did we want to create massive global awareness of the drones crisis in Pakistan that would create pressure on policy makers, but also wanted to make a direct and emotional appeal to a drone pilot that these are not faceless tiny dots, but human beings. Imagine the reaction of a pilot when on their screen, it's not a bug but a giant face of a child staring back at them from the ground, engaging them directly.
The UK Guardian described it best: 'It has the power to startle...and perhaps even render (the pilot) incapable of using his weapon afterwards.'
The campaign became the largest news item on the topic to ever come out from Pakistan. #NotABugSplat spread rapidly through social media and coverage in the world press. 104,000,000 impressions in the news and 11,000,000 impressions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amounted to $2,000,000+ in earned media. The news was tweeted by lawmakers in the National Assembly of Pakistan, who have raised the concern of drone strikes with the International Court of Justice.
Rights activists in Yemen expressed the desire to replicate the idea, while US activists picked up the campaign and displayed a copy of the poster around drone pilot training centers. The campaign's publicity brought the topic of collateral damage caused by drone strikes into the spotlight, which policymakers could no longer ignore. A recent US Government Accountability report has indicated that negative publicity is now affecting pilot morale.
We first located a photograph of a girl who had lost both her parents and siblings to a drone strike. Our biggest challenge was to execute this campaign in a suitable location. Even in the face of incredible danger, we wanted the real thing: the Northwest province region of Pakistan has been bombed repeatedly for the last decade by Predator drones, and is therefore highly volatile and dangerous. Planning began almost a year before we managed to get in to the province and - with the help of local villagers - install the poster in an area that had seen drone activity. An unmanned aerial device photographed the poster, which was then uploaded to a website, from where it was picked up by the global press, bloggers, influencers and government policy makers.
The situation is dire: more than 200 children have become collateral damage due to drone attacks in Pakistan. Despite frequent protests, not much news of this makes it out of the country. We needed a massive awareness campaign that would bring this news to as many people as possible around the world and help FFR in their fight for human rights.
The insight was very powerful: we decided to highlight the fact that drone pilots refer to casualties as 'Bug Splats', given that they are viewed from the sky as tiny dots.
Our strategy was incredibly simple. We knew that the idea of reaching out to a drone pilot was very powerful in itself, and would strike a note with people. This would in turn create pressure on policy makers regarding this crisis. What we had to make sure of was location and subject: the installation had to be done in a part of Pakistan that had seen drone activity and the image had to be of someone who had already fallen victim; both goals which we achieved.
Our plan, once the poster was installed, was to upload the image on an informational website which would be open to anyone - including the press, and to highlight the campaign with a hashtag that not only described our campaign, but also delivered a powerful message: #NotABugSplat