Category Archives: Social media

Are we equal?

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, causing a flurry of comments and articles about how far women have really come on the issue of equality. Unfortunately I’m flat out with ECF2011 planning to give this day proper attention and a blog post that it deserves but I couldn’t let it pass by without a quick one, particularly having posted previously on the issue.

Although Action Aid UK have a greatly title ‘GetLippy‘ campaign doing the rounds, the one that caught my eye today was the launch (?) of the new coalition campaign called ‘EQUALS‘.
EQUALS is a partnership of leading charities that have come together to step-up the call to demand a more equal world” – a little arbitrary perhaps but certainly there’s some great campaigns behind it (including my previous charity 1GOAL) so I’m looking forward to seeing it develop, not least for this interesting video featuring Daniel Craig (as James Bond) cross-dressing and Judi Dench doing the voiceover:


What was most interesting though was the facebook interaction they featured on the site (see midway down the page). Unfortunately it was a little confusing, particularly given that so much seemed to have gone into creating some great graphics, the information portrayed by them is pretty unclear – and I’m a big fan of infographics! The application (accessed via facebook connect) pulls, relatively basic, information of your friends’ and then places it into what seem like fairly standard comparisons. The statistic about the number of women raped in England and Wales each year is undoubtedly shocking (85,000) but it is the first that appears as you scroll down the page – an interesting one to present first given that it is seemingly unrelated to the information just provided via facebook so although it seems to feature pixelated images of your friends, the connection is unclear.

There then follows some basic comparisons of men & women without much-needed clarification and a ranking of countries where my friends live. This has the most ‘information/explanation’ displayed underneath but I’m still left confused at what exactly it’s trying to tell me. Maybe I’m just having one of those days (quite possibly!) or maybe it’s not quite been fully user-journey tested so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt but I’m keen to know what I’m supposed to be seeing revealed here:

From WeAreEquals.org

At the very bottom of this page is the most interesting or rather interactive section (and relevant to needing to connect via facebook) where it pulls out some statistics about there being more MPs pre-2010 election named David than women MPs, showing a photo of a friend of mine named David asking if he was one of them. (I wonder if they chose this ‘cos David is a relatively common name although wonder what they do if people don’t have a friend called David…) Then there was a section about how 22% of FTSE100 companies don’t have women on their board and pulling another image of a friend of mine who works for a FTSE100 company – clever use of what’s available on facebook without being too invasive – but I wonder why these two most interesting stats were right down the bottom of the page?

Would love to hear your thoughts…
Check out www.weareequals.org

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Clicktivism – will we acknowledge its impact?

Here’s the blog I wrote for 6 Billion Ways this weekend in response to the talk titled Clicktivism: Can we save the world in one click?
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Speakers:
Krissie Nicholson
, Local Organiser, London Citizens
David Babbs, 38 Degrees
Ellie O’Hagan, UK Uncut
Kevin Gillan, University of Manchester
Gigi Ibrahim, Egyptian activist

The general question this session aimed to discuss was ‘what is the most effective role for the internet to play in activism?’ – unfortunately the effectiveness of the internet was more predominantly denied rather than discussed.

I had hoped that with a varied panel of speakers such as those featured above there would be a nuanced and balanced discussion on the issue but unfortunately the conversation seemed to get stuck in the somewhat tired rhetoric of ‘offline versus online’ rather than how the two forms of activism can collaborate and benefit each other. Unfortunately the debate didn’t seem to recognise or at least fully vocalise the power of the internet, rather it was stuck in a rebuttal of its impact compared with more ‘sustainable’ offline methods of engagement.

Online activism and the somewhat damaging term of ‘clicktivism’ (implying a click is all it takes) has been criticised by many commentators following Malcolm Gladwell’s controversial article last August and in light of recent events in the Middle East being labeled (and accurately denied) as ‘twitter revolutions’. Unfortunately the responding outcries from e-activists and online campaigners have largely been of a defensive and justifying tone which perhaps has undermined rather than enriched this legitimate form of activism.

Online campaigning can take many forms, from signing a petition, emailing your local MP to donating to get an advert in the paper. Some might say that these are ‘just clicks’ and don’t indicate a ‘true’ sense of activism or involvement but what I see as one of the key appeals of online campaigning (at least personally) is that you can take action on issues you care about without necessarily feeling or being branded as a ‘radical activist’. Now that’s not saying there’s anything wrong with being a radical activist (we’d all be a lot worse off without those passionate individuals!) but being able to take part in campaigns you are interested in opens ‘activism’ up to a far wider audience. Protest and activism can take many forms so is it really justifiable to view their actions as any less legitimate just ‘cos they won’t get out in the streets and protest?

As David Babbs (38 Degrees) rightly pointed out during the debate; no online campaigners are claiming that the internet is the sole tool for creating change or being ‘one click away from saving the world’. David believes there’s no inherent superiority to any form of activism, that instead it depends on campaign, target, strategy and where you are in your life (both as an organisation and individual). He recognised that “the common factor of online and offline campaigning is power – if we as campaigners want enough power to make a difference we need to pool resources…the power of the internet is that it is a method to do this by facilitating collaboration”.

David also acknowledged that 38 Degrees (the UK’s largest online campaigning organisation) does not run purely online, instead it has been expanding its offline presence through ‘GetTogethers’ (a term coined by my previous organisation GetUp! Australia) which connect and mobilise locals to engage offline around the issues they explicitly care about online – thus enhancing the impact of both.

A particularly interesting viewpoint in light of recent events was that of Egyptian activist Gigi Ibrahim who gave a history of the revolution, “this was definitely not an internet revolution…it has been brewing for years…from all the previous mobilisation and the growing of the youth, labour and anti-capitalism movements over the last decade, then events in Tunisia that inspired Egypt that change was possible…it’s interesting that everyone is crediting the internet when the real battle was on the streets factories, workplaces”.

Gigi did however acknowledge that the internet had a role to play “the real role of the internet was helping to mobilise these movements. When we started planning for the January 25th Movement yes the web was useful for coordinating and mobilising…the most important role of the internet was to get info from on the ground out to the wider world and rest of Egypt to let them know what was happening, building awareness through the web to spread/receive information but at the end of the day it took the power of the people to make a difference”.

Analysis of the extent to which the Egyptian and Tunisian events were ‘twitter/facebook revolutions’ has been prolific in the media and online blogs but I think it’s important to note that this cannot be answered simply with an ‘all or nothing’ approach. It’s important that we understand the differences between a medium (either online or offline) being solely responsible rather than assisting in change.

I could give you countless examples of where offline campaigns have been enhanced and reinvigorated by online actions, just as online campaigns have benefited from on-the-ground support (if you’re interested then check out some of the Avaaz or GetUp! campaigns such as the recent ‘No Child in Detention‘ online-offline action).

Ultimately offline and online activism are two sides to the same coin and need to be seen as such, they go hand-in-hand and (when done well) can complement and enhance each others’ actions. But this need for a ‘PC’ approach to online activism needs to end – yes online can’t happen without the offline support but we cannot continue to deny that it does have an impact, so let’s recognise that.

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Brie Rogers Lowery is a freelance e-campaigner previously of 1GOAL & GetUp! Australia.
She tweets at @brie_rl and blogs via Breezy Thinking.

Social media’s role in the Egyptian revolution

Whilst Egypt is in the throes of revolt there has been another kind of unrest going on across the online networks, one that has risen with every uprising over the last few months; the debate over the power and influence of social media on the revolutions in question.

Both sides of the argument have come out in full force however it is the naysayers who have unfortunately received the most traction. Nonetheless it has stirred up a continued debate around the power of online mobilisation (or ‘slactivism’ as the cynics say) and it’s role in non-Western political advocacy. Can a few tweets and some facebook posts really have that cause a revolution?

When Obama ran his campaign by successfully utilising every corner of the online platforms, social media networks and online-to-offline mobilisation structures available at the time, there was worldwide admiration (and some might say envy) for the all-encompassing process that allowed people to take part in the political process regardless of ability, age or knowledge.
The campaign was heralded as one of the first ‘e-Elections’ (although Australia had seen eCampaigning as a crucial part of it’s 2007 election through the online advocacy group GetUp!) where the power of technology came out in true force to ensure not only a victory for Barack Obama but a seemingly genuine sense of public involvement in the win.
Perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention at the time, or I was caught up in the hype and excitement of the political change across the Atlantic (or rather Pacific as I was in Australia at the time) however there didn’t seem to be the criticism of online tactics and use of social media that now engulf other political actions in the rest of the world – most notably those in the non-Western world.

I don’t think that anyone is arguing (and from the comments I’ve seen they’re not) that twitter and facebook were the driving forces behind revolutions in Egypt or Tunisia but I, like many others, find it hard to doubt the role that these social networks have had to play in not only accelerating the revolutions but also opening them up to the wider world.

As E.B.Boyd commented in her blog: “…it takes a lot more than the 21st century version of a communication system to persuade people to take to the streets and risk harm, imprisonment, or death. But that doesn’t mean social media didn’t play a role. It did. Given the magnitude of grievances in each country, revolt would almost certainly have come eventually. But social media simply made it come faster.”

Boyd goes on to argue that social media had a role to play in 3 areas:

  1. Organising protests – the power of mass-organising tools such as facebook and twitter not only allowed great numbers of Egyptians to find out about the protests and attend them but also brought their attention to the wider world.
  2. Shaping the narrative – allowing voices other than the Government or media to be out in the public arena through social networks, bloggers in particular have been given a prominent voice since the Egyptian revolution began and have helped reshaped the narrative and description from ‘chaos’ to ‘unrest’.
  3. Putting pressure on Washington – with so much information ‘escaping’ the country and being placed in the public eye via social media networks, Washington, Boyd argues, was forced to address rather than play down the issues occurring in Egypt.

I would agree with Boyd’s 3 defining roles and add that these perhaps happened in sequence.
Firstly social networks allowed protesters to spread the word online amongst civilians and attract higher numbers to convene in planned offline mobilisations. The word of these protests and growing momentum behind them was able to be seen worldwide through these networks and the word spread, as did the commentary from both within Egypt and outside.
Trending topics on twitter increased and journalists looked for on-the-ground reports via twitter streams and blogs. These in turn allowed the narrative to be shaped by those closest to the action and dispersed across the web. With the word spreading across social networks and the media picking up on this, Washington and other world leaders invested in Egypt were forced to address rather than distract from the issues at hand.

One of the most noticeable things of the Egyptian revolt is that the media’s portrayal of events has prominently featured twitter and blog streams from Egyptian voices.
When the government cracks down on media the social networks continue to flourish, when the government cracks down on the internet amazing new technologies are driven such as Speak2Tweet that allowed people to call a number and record a tweet, thus getting around the internet blockages in Egypt this week.

Something I firmly believe in is the role that social media has had to play in bringing both the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions to the attention of the wider (Western) world. As a Westerner based in the UK, it was hard to avoid tweets or facebook posts about the revolts. Even being offline abroad and only checking into these 2 social networks did I stay up-to-date with events without ever having to visit a news site.
The prominent use of facebook and twitter by protesters and commentators opened up these revolutions to the world outside their relative countries and meant that as a member of the twitter or facebook community you felt part of what was happening there.
Would we have seen this mass media coverage or felt as engaged with what was happening to such a degree had there not been the crossover onto social media networks?

Jillian C. York raises some interesting points on her blog which argues that whilst it is too early to tell, the Tunisian revolution was not a ‘twitter’ revolution but a ‘human’ one – but I wonder; do these two have to be mutually exclusive? What commentators seem to forget is that behind the twitter streams and facebook postings are actual real people. Just by being behind the facade of the internet doesn’t make you any less real – does it?

So did the Egpytian (or indeed Tunisian) revolution start as a result of social media? No of course not, otherwise we’d be revolting here in the UK or USA if you go by number of social media users. But was it accelerated and more widely covered worldwide as a result? Undoubtedly so.

With thanks to E.B.Boyd’s blog for inspiration.

Mapping social networks

As a lover of maps and social media I can’t get enough of this infographic showing social media networks represented by land-mass size. Updated last year following a 2007 version that showed a dominant MySpace and non-existent Twitter, the map from 2010 below shows just how large these communities are – and facebook has since grown to 600 million users…

The 2010 Social Networking Map
Flowtown – Social Media Marketing Application

Visit to facebook

During my 8 hour stop-over in San Francisco last week (returning from the land down under) I manage to squeeze in a visit to the facebook HQs where I met up with Rhea who showed me round their inspiring offices.

Visit to facebook

Visit to facebook