#lightthedark puts Australian asylum seeker policy in the spotlight

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Jay Dillon

Director of Strategy and Creative at Inbound Experts
Jay is a digital marketer and producer whose creative and technical skills have developed digital brand strategies and sales campaigns using a range of complex internet applications from stand-alone websites through to Facebook API integrations.
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“Many thousands of Australians tonight cried out for change,” said GetUp’s national director, Sam Mclean. “The truth is we just don’t know what’s happening in these places, the government’s shut off the lights, taking censorship to an unprecedented level.”

Overnight Australians from all walks of life joined an 8pm vigil to commemorate slain asylum seeker Reza Berati and protest the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers by the Australian Government.

Using the #lightthedark hashtag, the campaign activated by Getup!, bought people on the streets in capital cities and smaller vigils in regional areas in an effort to send a message a clear message to the Government that treating people in this way was unacceptable. The hashtag is still trending today.

GetUp! launched the campaign on Friday and the turn out was estimated at approximately 15,000 people.  But the interesting thing with the campaign is that while the vigil occurred on Sunday, it will prove to be just the beginning for using #lightthedark as an ongoing pressure mechanism for change around this hot-bed political issue.

Such is the power of social media and when used well activist movements consolidate the impacts of this fast moving engagement shows huge dividends. In this case, the Federal Government has recently allocated $4.3 million dollars worth of research contracts in order to gauge sentiment on its immigration policy. Globally, Governments are looking at ways to measure, contain and get a piece of the action within the social media sphere, often badly. Consumer led opinion and action has never been better placed than in today’s technologically savvy environment.

The best thing to come from this type of campaigning is that it opens up the issue to international reporting from mainstream and internet based zines and blogs. It makes what is considered a ‘local’ issue a very international issue.  Think the Arab Spring, what is happening in the Ukraine or in Syria. But here in Australia, Australians are saying that this type of treatment of asylum seekers is not acceptable. And the world media are already reporting on it now.

What are the magic ingredients that these types of campaign have that often fail in mainstream?

Understanding the Environment

Fed by the mainstream media with information limited by the Government, the story of the Manus Island incident continued to develop with ongoing updates showing that initial statements by the Government were not totally accurate. With a statement being released by the Government as late as 10pm on Saturday night the environment of lack of transparency provided a tipping point to mobilise people on the issue.  Timing was spot on.


Engaged Community

Using the information within the mainstream media, GetUp! were able to bring together an established and engaged community through clear communication and good mobilisation of the #lightthedark hashtag.  The growth of the group GetUp! following its inception in 2005 has been supported by its commitment to its mission and consistency of message around this.  What this breeds is strong consumer trust.


Letting Community take Control

GetUp! provided the platform and some organisational support but basically campaigns like this work when you let people do their bit.  They share across multiple platforms, create spot on content and use their networks effectively.  Money cannot buy this magic. This is the beauty of cause marketing done brilliantly; put it into the hands of the people.  They will guide any campaign to where it needs to be and manage to drown out any trolling that dares to infringe on the message.

Simple Messages

The call to action is clear – it tells people what to do and the hashtag to use.  This action in itself supports people to find out more about the matter and connect with others who can inform them on the progression of the issue.


#lightthedark has only just begun.  The interesting thing will be to watch it grow and morph, far outside of Australia’s borders and into the homes and offices across the world.  This indelible hashtag will also become a symbol for a period in Australia’s political history with a social media case study most likely in the making.  I suggest you watch this space.

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