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excellent post.

one more thing we should consider when thinking about social change in the context of social media is similar to what was alluded with regard to electoral politics: social media is a 'fact' with which those interested in social change must contend. whether social change activists are there to engage people, people will, at least for 'now' (understanding the 'present' to be very flexible in terms of duration), be 'there', using social media for interaction, information, entertainment, and even 'engagement' with the world.

the vast majority of people i 'know' on social media platforms are just regular folks (read: not social change activists or npic professionals) who are far less geeky than i am and much less interested in the 'revolutionary' potential of the internet. for them, the internet just 'is' a part of their lives - increasingly so (in terms of the amount of time they spend 'on' it and it's importance in maintaining their affiliative bonds with others). because social change requires being able to engage people where they are in order to discuss a different kind of social present, (at least some) social change activists must contend with social media as part of their strategy for change.

the problem with some of the 'hype' around social media as a 'revolutionary' tool for social change is that, quite frankly, it is looking at the problem from the wrong end. social media is not the 'solution' to our social change problems; it is part of the 'problem' (read: more as a puzzle than harmful thing or process) we are trying to 'solve'.


Thank you for this post!

One of the things that gets to me about the incessant discussion of “the revolutionary tool for social change that is social media” is that somewhere in there people seem to have forgotten what a *tool* is, exactly. I can have the most revolutionary hammer and a thoroughly innovative buzzsaw and awesome new nails and the newest wood on the market. But, if I want to build a house it won't get built until I use the tools and build it, which I can't do until *after* I've thought a lot about it and planned in detail exactly what kind of house I want to build. It's the same with social change. Tools don't effect change, people do. Specifically, inspired people with a plan.

And that is where a lot of nonprofits go wrong, not just with their use of social media, but in general. Like you touched on, too many are focused more on self-perpetuation than social change, and I think that is a huge problem within the nonprofit field as a whole, not just with their use of social media. So many organizations are so concerned with funding (understandably), they forget about what it is they're trying to fund in the first place. And, rather than really working to inspire their memberships and communities to become passionate, engaged social change activists first, many nonprofits cater to passive action to get the immediate dollars or members. “All you have to do to help better the world is click here – donate now – sign this form! That's it!” And, well, no. That's not it. But organizations have been doing that since before web 2.0, so it's really not surprising that many use it that way now. I'm not sure why people thought Twitter would change that.


This part captures the essence of the post:

"Social media doesn't mean you do less organizing — it means you (can) do it better, or at least differently. You still have to use all the old skills of coalition-building, strategic planning, creative social action, managing relationships and preventing burnout. None of that goes away just because you're engaging with people on Facebook instead of in town halls."

We call it here in the Philippines... "There's no substitute for the real thing." A member of our group, wrote something similar,

"The use of the Internet and the like is in fact complementary to people’s actions. Applications in the Internet make networking, coordination and information dissemination a cinch for cause-oriented organizations. However it does not have the same nature and impact as on-the-ground protest actions.

Without the numbers on the ground, what effect would a virtual campaign do? If not geared toward mobilizing people into action, virtual campaigns produce virtual gains. At most, the cyberworld becomes another outlet for opinions and discussions. Clicking a button to join a cause is easy and would actually contribute to the high numbers in virtual causes like that in Facebook. Yet translating these mouse-clicks into attendance in rallies and action should be the real target."

The full article is posted here.

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