Jump to Navigation

Finding the movement's voice: Online social networks and social change

Why Paolo Freire would love Facebook

Today at the Peace and Justice Studies Association 2009 Conference at Marquette University, I hosted a workshop called, “Finding the Movement’s Voice: Online Social Networks and Social Change”:

The subtitle of this workshop could be, “Social change has always relied on social networks — they just weren’t called FacebookFacebook is a social network encouraging real identity — each user has a single account under their full, real name. Facebook began among US college students but has quickly expanded to people of all ages around the world..” I’m going to be talking concretely about the strategy of using online tools for social change. This won’t be an ain’t-it-cool presentation of shiny technology, nor will it be a technical exploration of complicated software. It will be an interactive how-to on making social change work more effective by using online social technology.

While I did use a set of slides, the workshop was participatory and the slides were mostly illustrative; I hope to publish them here and on Slideshare with a voiceover soon, but they’re probably not worth posting otherwise.

What I can post is an extended set of resources and tools for those pursuing social change and want to engage folks online. In addition, much of my presentation was drawn on earlier presentations and writing, including:

You may also be interested in some of my earlier academic work on third-party nonviolent intervention and unarmed peacekeeping, including a presentation from the 2005 PJSA conference and some of my analysis published in the journal Peace & Change.

Resources related to technology and social change

You can download a PDF of a shorter version of this list; feel free to use or distribute as you like.

Guides, case studies and places for inspiration

  • Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media — “A place to capture and share ideas, experiment with and exchange links and resources about the adoption challenges, strategy, and ROI of nonprofits and social media.” Beth Kanter explores the social use by nonprofits of images (e.g., FlickrFlickr is a social media site for photographs and digital images. Like a social network, it allows users to “friend” one another, join groups, and see a recent-updates feed of their own and their friends’ images. Flickr is owned by Yahoo!.), video (YouTubeYouTube is a social network built around video content: posting, sharing, rating and commenting.) and microblogs (TwitterTwitter is a social network built around short status updates — a combination of microblogging and instant messaging, with the ability to post from mobile phones through text messages.), among other technologies.
  • DigiActive — A team of activists and writers chronicling successful uses and case studies of technology for social change. Many invaluable resources, such as a guide to using Twitter for activism and a guide to secure communication.
  • Dear SoSi — Social Signal’s Alexandra Samuel and Rob Cottingham are leaders in social media integration and online community development for nonprofits and social change groups. They’ve collected some of their best advice and grouped it by audience — so whether you’re a nonprofit executive, a membership director or online manager, or an activist on a shoestring budget, Dear SoSi will give you some great pointers.
  • NetSquared — A community of nonprofits and groups who are using technology — especially social networks and social media — for social change. In addition to the blog, NetSquared sponsors gatherings in many cities called Net Tuesdays, as well as an annual NetSquared conference.
  • New Tactics in Human Rights — Resources organized around analysis of potential solutions rather than that of specific issues, geographic regions or target groups that allow activists to clearly recognize the unique elements of their situation, and to seek promising approaches that have worked elsewhere and apply them to new regions or issues. New Tactics hosts regular online discussions on effective human rights tactics, both online and on the ground.
  • MobileActive.org — Case studies and guides on using mobile (cellular) phones for social change around the world.
  • Community Organizer 2.0 — The blog of Debra Askanase, a veteran community organizer who focuses on the strategy of using technology.
  • Apophenia — Sociological research and commentary on the use of social networks like MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournalLiveJournal is a social network built around blogging. Users can “friend” one another and restrict some or all blog entries to their friends. Users can also join blogging communities built around particular topics., Xanga and YouTube by teenagers in the United States. danah boyd is a PhD candidate at the University of California Berkeley and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
  • Media Mobilizing ProjectMMP believes media must be connected to economic and social realities of everyday life. The right to free speech means little without the right to be heard. By sharing our own stories for the purposes of education, outreach, and organizing, we can disrupt the fragmentation of our issues and the isolation of our communities, and build the networks necessary to address the root causes of the problems we face.
  • Progressive Exchange — An online discussion group of new media and communications directors at many large nonprofits and international NGOs.
  • Radical Techies Mailing List — A discussion group of many people involved on the technical side of both large-scale projects like the World Social Forum and local grassroots community groups.
  • More resources

Tools and services

  • TechSoup — TechSoup is a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits in the United States and Canada acquire deeply-discounted software and online services. Microsoft Office for $16? Adobe InDesign for $60? Flickr accounts for $3/year? It’s all in TechSoup’s stock. Additionally, TechSoup has a vibrant forum community and blog postings relating to the use of technology by nonprofits.
  • Idealware — Provides candid Consumer Reports–style reviews and articles about software of interest to nonprofits. Through product comparisons, recommendations, case studies, and software news, Idealware allows nonprofits to make the software decisions that will help them be more effective.
  • Human Rights Data Analysis Group — Designs database software, data collection strategies, and statistical techniques to measure human rights atrocities; and conducts statistical analysis on behalf of human rights projects.
  • Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) — A membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes. NTEN sponsors online “webinars” and the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference.
  • More tools

My background

I am the creative director of Rootwork.org, working with nonprofits and social change groups, developing websites and doing online strategy around advocacy, fundraising and member engagement. I helped found the Genocide Intervention Network and worked there for four years, first as the director of communications and later as Internet strategy coordinator.

In 2003, I was part of why-war.org, which launched a nationwide campaign of electronic civil disobedience against the voting machine manufacturer Diebold. Subsequently I’ve worked with several social change groups including Soulforce and Casino-Free Philadelphia.