Since 2004, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed an estimated 3500+ people, a disturbing percentage of whom have been described as innocent civilians. Including more than 200 children1. Reprieve/FFR has been working to raise awareness of this crisis, but protests in Pakistan go unnoticed globally. Our objective was not only to raise awareness, but to do it in an impactful way that would affect the very people behind it enough to bring about a change - a change that would reduce the number of collateral damage victims.
We began with an insight: drone operators routinely describe their casualties as 'Bug Splats' since viewing a human from far above gives the sense of an insect being crushed2. Our strategy was to address pilots directly. 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, thereby engaging them in a direct visual dialogue.
To raise awareness, the campaign - part of French artist JR's Inside Out movement - was put online with the hashtag #NotABugSplat and a website3 with information about drone strikes.
After a seeded leak in the local press, we went viral overnight, globally. 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 in the first month alone4.
The news was tweeted by members of National Assembly of Pakistan5, who raised the concern of drone strikes with the International Court of Justice. Two months later, the High Court in Islamabad registered a criminal case against the operators6. Rights activists in USA have replicated the idea there, while the photograph has become the poster image for anti-drone protests, from Internet memes to the Tate UK to grass roots activists in Yemen.
Strikingly, the latest US Government Accountability report indicates that all the negative publicity is affecting pilot morale7 - we even got an interview confirming this from an ex-drone sensor operator. The UK Guardian described our work best: "It has the power to startle...and perhaps even render (the pilot) incapable of using his weapon afterwards."8
While strikes have lessened, the total number of civilians and children killed by drones since this work was put up last year - according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism - has been brought down to almost zero.9
4 Agency Research (Keyhole.co, social monitor, tweet reach, hashtracking; media amount is based on a $20 per impression calculation)