Scooter Reflections on Social Media Tools

April 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Vespa.NEWNEW

Riding into IISC this morning by scooter, I was reflecting on some things that have happened in the last week as a way of getting ready for a conversation I;ll be in this afternoon about how to bring more social media tools into our consulting practice. As we are working globally with groups (among which is a beginning field of Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace) and are attending to our carbon footprint, we’re looking at ways to deepen our practice in this regard.

A few things came to mind. I was reflecting on a number of important things I’ve seen happen for advocates over the past week on Twitter. The Moldovan “twitter revolution” that came about because six friends were drinking coffee, discussing how upset they were about what they saw as election fraud and decided to try to start a flash mob, gathering their friends to protest. They were expecting a few hundred to come but by the time they got to the square, 20,000 people were waiting – and the votes had to be recounted. (Click here for an article about this.)

Or the Egyptian blogger, journalist and human rights activist Wael Abbas, who was arrested over the weekend and tweeted constantly everything that happened to him. This was passed around on twitter so that he ended up with hundreds more people following him by the end of the day – and was released. As Ervin Staub talks about in The Psychology of Good and Evil: Why Children, Adults and Groups Help and Harm Others, this was a powerful demonstration of the importance of bystanders actively witnessing atrocities and making it known that they are – in this case, in a virtual space.

And then there was the Twitter and Facebook firestorm that happened over the weekend about Amazon’s “de-ranking” books with gay and lesbian content. Within a few hours, the story was the top story on twitter and (from my small section of Facebook) was also one of the most frequent things being written about on Facebook. People were quickly signing petitions, passing along information about how to write to Amazon.com and starting a boycott until they changed the policy. Within about 24 hours, Amazon.com came out with an apology and has promised to fix it. (Click here for an article about this.)

While I personally am waiting until the books are all ranked again before I’ll shop from Amazon, it’s clear to me what a difference social media tools can make. They’re fabulous for spreading news quickly and for organizing a response.

And what about how to work together virtually – beyond quick responses to situations? What are the tools for that? I’ve been thinking a lot about this – more to come!

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  • Gibran says:

    Linda, this stuff is truly mindblowing, and it’s all happening so fast. I was just talking to Charlie (here at IISC) and we were remembering Mary Kearns’ and his thoughts on the density of connections. Your points seem to prove what he has been saying – the more tightly woven our communications grid, the more things can happen.

    I supposed these could be good and bad things, but as of now, there seems to be a positive ethos in most of these social media worlds.

    I am right there with you in this wondering about how to best take advantage of these technologies to work together and get things done virtually. My experience so far is that the more woven a team is the more likely it is that they can do amazing things together.

  • Andria Winther says:

    Powerful, powerful examples. What surfaces for me is when David Strauss said to Brookline years ago — you won’t get people to collaborate unless they have something something truly compelling to collaborate about, where there is a real imperative. Seems like the same premise may hold true for using social media tools…….

  • Santiago says:

    Great read Linda. I am incredibly interested in Staub’s piece. Fantastic evidence for the theory that developments in technology can help close disparities rather than distance them.

  • Curtis says:

    Another interesting blog was posted about the Amazon issue: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/04/the-failure-of-amazonfail/

    In it, Clay Shirky describes how a technological error can cause this kind of categorization error. Which, if correct, would make my assertions about “waiting until all books are ranked again before I’ll buy from Amazon” placing blame incorrectly. Great point! And yet – even if there’s a technological reason why gay and lesbian themed books were “de-ranked”, the impact of the Tweeter and Facebook storm is the same. Something that may have been viewed as a lower priority glitch was seen as a major problem – Amazon’s audience listened to and taken seriously. A new world – and power being built among the people.

  • Gibran says:

    Another interesting blog was posted about the Amazon issue: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/04/the-failure-of-amazonfail/

    In it, Clay Shirky describes how a technological error can cause this kind of categorization error. Which, if correct, would make my assertions about “waiting until all books are ranked again before I’ll buy from Amazon” placing blame incorrectly. Great point! And yet – even if there’s a technological reason why gay and lesbian themed books were “de-ranked”, the impact of the Tweeter and Facebook storm is the same. Something that may have been viewed as a lower priority glitch was seen as a major problem – Amazon’s audience listened to and taken seriously. A new world – and power being built among the people.

  • Linda says:

    Another interesting blog about the Amazon Fail issue – that talks about the impact of these kinds of structural barriers. Amazing, as I was thinking (on my scooter ride home) about the fact that regardless of the possible lack of intent to harm, the impact on a group of people (in this case LGBTQ folks) is still the same! And again, regardless of all of THAT, seeing the effects of social media is pretty amazing.

    Here’s the other blog: http://www.equaljusticesociety.org/2009/04/amazonfail/

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Two observations about being on the edges of things. First, about being on the margins of consumption of info via social media. I had caught the Moldova situation but not the others mentioned in this post. Great stories to hear, and because I haven’t been on line much in the past two days, it makes me wonder what else I’ve missed that’s truly important.

    Second, on the matter of producing content in social media. I am finding that my own attempts to put ideas out there so far tend to reinforce my marginality in some ways. There’s nothing quite like cyber silence to make me wonder if there’s value in what I’m thinking out loud about in social media forums. For instance, Tuesday night I posted a couple things on Twitter and Facebook in hopes of getting a conversation going and there was virtually no uptake. Some of that may have been a function of the time of day, but I’ve had that experience before on our internal blog and other places at more reasonable times of day. It could also be a function of my not being on quite the same page as others in my network. I did have some real conversations with a few folks in the office about what I had posted, but not because they saw the posts–because I initiated a conversation about the issues. Much more satisfying and also a little bit reassuring that I’m not as far on the margins as I might have thought based on the electronic responses.

  • Gibran says:

    Cynthia – this is deep, and I’m now wondering if this is the best venue, but after reading your comment, how could I not respond! Don’t mean to make light of something serious, but really worth looking into, beyond your own personal experience, what does this say about the role of networks and their capacity to reflect resonance…

    you know what, I just wrote all sorts of stuff, and decided to cut and copy them somewhere else, why don’t you make this a blog topic and I’ll be glad to meet you there…

  • Linda says:

    Great comments Cynthia! One thing I notice is that the three examples I gave are of situations in which “news” was passed quickly. So these are instances of information spreading quickly – not necessarily with much conversation. What is not known is how many people read the news posts (come to the square in Maldova, Wael Abbas’ posts and the AmazonFail notices) without responding – but still may have either taken action or passed on the information live. So that there may be influence without response.

    It is a deeper question about how relational these spaces are. I have found that when I’m regularly reposting others’ tweets and responding to things others post on Facebook – when I am more engaged in the online space – I tend to get more responses to things I post. And that takes attention and time to cultivate a vital online community – as it does to cultivate a vital face-to-face community. But what are the differences? And when does each serve best? These are things we’re trying to explore.

    I think the points you raise are great ones – and things we could explore. Perhaps keeping track of what kinds of things resonate in different social media forums. I have also been wondering whether these virtual spaces are, in some ways, more comfortable for introverts than for extroverts. An open question.

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