May 22, 2009 § 3 Comments
How Social Media Activists are Changing the World
I have seen and heard a lot of nay-saying lately in the media about social networking tools, to which I feel compelled to respond. Within the last week I’ve encountered at least three different critiques about tools the likes of Twitter and Facebook, accusing thier users of “slacktivism,” like this opinion piece by John Ridley, who says that People who use Twitter are hypocrites, or the piece in Foreign Policy which claims that the tools foster “feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact.”
To this I say “pshaw!” I can say first hand that these tools have real impact, especially when it comes to community organizing and raising awareness of issues. I work in the nonprofit world, where social benefit organizations are exploring the exploding number of communication tools available to see how they can be used to motivate people into action, whether it is getting out news, inviting people to an event, informing people of volunteer service opportunities, or encouraging folks to make charitable contributions. Getting people engaged with these tools is the whole reason they are so successful.
Last winter, I went to a rally at the Center on Halsted when Fred Phelps and his clan were in town ready to hurl their anti-gay hatred at this wonderful Chicago institution. One of the primary ways the organizers were able to get the word out was through Facebook and Twitter. Over 200 people showed up, and we successfully delivered the message to Phleps & Co that hate is not welcome here.
Right now, marriage equality activists are organizing and communicating with each other about local actions when the Supreme Court decision in California that is announced on Tuesday, May 26th. Through online tools, we are getting the word out and as a result people are going to hit the streets all over the country on Tuesday night.
Next week in San Jose, CA, people from all over the world are gathering for the NetSquared conference, which is all about the use of social technologies for progressive social change. People representing all types of nonprofit organizations that are working for environmental justice, human rights, and world peace are coming together to learn from each other and collaborate. The projects they work on include Handheld Human Rights, which uses technology tools to document human rights abuses in Burma, and PublicStuff.org, a mobile application that enables citizens to make meaningful connections with their local government leaders and hold them accountable to meet needs in their communities.
There’s also the example of the Sunlight Foundation which promotes the creation and use of online tools to improve access to government information. The Sunlight Foundation promotes tools like Filibusted, which allows users to keep track of which senators have used the filibuster to stall debate, and Know Thy Congressman, a widget that convenietly provides very useful information about any congressperson, including their voting record.
Social media is more than just Twitter and Facebook, and though those are wonderful community organizing tools, too, there are so many more under development. Activists all over the world have used and created these tools to raise visibility for their issues. These are not perfect mediums, and they are only as good as the people who use them.
Finally, as I was writing this post, I learned via Twitter that the prolific nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter wrote a post for Mashable about how social media is changing the nonprofit landscape. Her examples further illustrate the point I am making.
Nay-sayers be darned! Social media tools are helping activists change the world.