social media


Online activism has its shortcomings, but is not a failure | 

unicefActivists have turned to social media as a way to get people involved in their campaigns. Critics say that the ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ is nothing more than a cheap way to make a person feel like she did something while not doing anything. Proponents say that every little bit helps and there is value in creating awareness as people share information with their social networks.

The popularity of the Kony 2012 video and its ensuing backlash brought the debate to center stage two years ago. Some charities are pushing back on the trend. UNICEF Sweden released a series of videos that shunned Facebook likes and asked for cash donations

So, who is right?

Two new pieces of research shed a bit of light on the answer. Those who sit firmly in pro and against slacktivism camps will be disappointed. Both sides are right and wrong.

Using social media for activism can make a difference, but it matters most to the people who are already interested in an issue. It is not terribly hard to get people to participate by liking a Facebook page or sending out a Tweet. The challenge is converting bystanders into engaged activists.

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Twitter reveals what the blogosphere wants to make world a better place | 

The international community is trying to figure out what it — the world — wants to do next to make the world a better place. Social media like Twitter offers a look at what people, at least those who use Twitter, want.

The United Nations’ very cool project Global Pulse has analyzed keywords and ‘sentiments’ used by people who are talking on Twitter about what to to do after 2015 when we reach the finish line for the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals staked out in 2000 to set global priorities aimed at reducing poverty and improving health.

In general, Twitter says most folks want better local schools, a better internet connection and jobs. But go to the site and run the data for a sense of how the priorities differ between countries. Kenya’s top priority (again, according to Twitter alone) is better roads. Bangladesh’s top priority is freedom from discrimination and political freedom.

Global Pulse


UNICEF asks people to stop ‘liking’ things on Facebook & send money | 

Like“Liking” a world without poverty and injustice, on Facebook, is thought to be an act of good will.

Proponents see such acts on social media as a way to build an audience, show support of a movement and reach more people through engagement. Opponents of such simple clicks of a mouse call it slacktivism – a superficial fix that makes people feel like they are doing something when in most cases it makes no difference.

So some experts decided to research social media activism and find out what people really thought. A survey conducted with YouGov, a crowd-sourced polling service, found that many people feel acting via social media is sufficient. One in five respondents said that a ‘like’ on Facebook is a good way of supporting an organization.

The survey found that one in seven people think that liking an organization on Facebook is as good as donating money.

UNICEF Sweden, for one, decided it needed to push back on this with a little humor.

“We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there,” explained UNICEF Sweden Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant. “Likes don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines for instance.” Continue reading

Massive viral video campaign against African warlord hits and misses | 

Over the last few days, a video posted on YouTube that aims to raise the profile — and potential for arrest — of the infamous African warlord Joseph Kony has been hugely popular and, in the eyes of many, so simplistic and inaccurate it is likely to do much more harm than good.

Some even go so far as to contend the organization behind the video, Invisible Children, is more interested in promoting itself than its cause:

The non-profit organization has been accused of spending the vast majority of its donations on film production, staff salaries and transport.

You can judge for yourself. Here’s the video, a powerful and well-done short (half hour) film calling for a groundswell, grassroots movement to push for the arrest of Kony and stop the decades of terror fomented by his Lord’s Resistance Army in east and central Africa:

It’s very compelling, but it has also prompted a major backlash from many experts on Africa, conflict resolution, development and foreign policy. Continue reading

Gates Fdn’s Tweets reveal passive, insular global health community | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is hosting a number of events today in anticipation of the opening of the philanthropy’s new public visitor center. Social media, and media in general, will play a big role in it.

If they use Twitter or Facebook to tell people about it, chances are the story will look like this:

Marc Smith, Connected Action

A snapshot of the Gates Foundation's Twitterverse

That’s a Twitter Map (here’s a more readable but huge link) made by Marc Smith, a sociologist who studies online communities, founder of the Social Media Research Foundation and former chief of Microsoft Research’s community technologies group.

The map, he says, indicates a fairly insular and uncommunicative bunch of folks.

“It’s mostly just an echoing of the Gates Foundation,” said Smith. “There’s not a lot of response, or engagement. Basically, it looks like people preaching to the choir.”

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Three reasons to pay attention to Tunisia | 

Flickr, gwenflickr

Tunisia Protest

Here are three reasons you should pay attention to Tunisia:

1. First, a popular uprising — sparked by the dramatic suicide of an abused man — has succeeded in ousting a corrupt dictator. Such uprisings don’t happen that often, and they usually don’t succeed.

This story by Kristen Chick for the Christian Science Monitor is a nice, narrative summary.

2. Secondly, the mainstream media (in the U.S. anyway) generally paid little attention to this until quite late in the game. Instead, young people engaging in “social media” — Twitter, Facebook and the like — spread the word, fueling the uprising and reporting the news.

The UW’s new media expert Hanson Hosein provides a great overview of reports/opinions on the role of social media in Tunisia’s revolution. Also, a freelance journalist writing for Huffington Post says the story of Tunisia is the story of how powerful social media can be in situations where traditional media fail or are constrained.

3. Third, however this shakes out in the Tunisian Republic (its official name), the people’s revolt in this tiny, north African Arabic country appears to be causing all sorts of reverberations across the Arab world.

Already, as NPR reports, students in neighboring Algeria have engaged in similar protests — against corruption, for freedom. And Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign affairs reporter, suggests other repressive leaders in the regions should maybe “pack a bag” given what’s happened in Tunisia.

So, there are the three reasons you should be paying attention. There are plenty more, of course, but my point is what’s happening in Tunisia appears to be quite historic on a number of fronts — it may be one of those tipping points.

Oh, and for those of you wondering why this “Jasmine Revolution” appears to have worked while the so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran didn’t, here’s an interesting perspective by author Mahmood Delkhasteh on HuffPo.