Social Media for Social Change
From sexy American made cars to a rotovirus vaccine, U2’s lead singer Bono covered quite the gamut of predictions for the next ten years. The rock star and social activist penned an amazing article for the New York Times last week that identified some major macro trends we should all pay attention to. Bono clearly has his pet projects and the one trend that really stood out to me was his comment on people power.
As Americans we’re fortunate not to live under a dictatorship or false democracy. The Iranian elections last year and the protests that rose up afterwards are another hint the world’s people yearn to breathe free regardless of their current government.
A lot of us have seen or lived the organizational chart of the last century, in which power and influence (whether possessed by church, state or corporation) are concentrated in the uppermost point of the pyramid and pressure is exerted downward. But in this new century, and especially in some parts of the developing world, the pyramid is being inverted. Much has been written about the profits to be made at the bottom of the pyramid; less has been said about the political power there. Increasingly, the masses are sitting at the top, and their weight, via cellphones, the Web and the civil society and democracy these technologies can promote, is being felt by those who have traditionally held power. Today, the weight bears down harder when the few are corrupt or fail to deliver on the promises that earned them authority in the first place.
As a society we discuss transparency as a desirable quality. The real life application of everybody knowing our every move is harder to transition to. That pressure is even greater for people of power. The most difficult position is that of a dictator in today’s world. After the Iran elections in 2009, protesters turned to Twitter when regular Internet communication was cut. The message was loud and clear. Dissension can not be squelched. If you give every man, woman and child a phone, they will communicate…positive or negative.
Fortunately in this world dictatorships and tyranny are on the downswing, but we all have to deal with someone or some company that fails to deliver on promises. That’s the application I’d like to discuss today.
2004 was the first time social media ever impacted an American election. It was actually a negative impact. Remember the swiftboat blogs? The 2008 election was won by the effective use of technology. Some may argue it was an anti-incumbent sentiment, but I maintain the difference between Obama on the ticket and Clinton boiled down to technological strategy.
On Tuesday when Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon announces his candidacy for the Utah Governor position, you can actually attribute a portion of his decision to social media. Besides individual pleas for him to run, two citizen activists started a Draft Peter Corroon for Governor Facebook page. Along with polling and the other market research one does before running for office, I can’t help but think that fan page with over 1100 members factored into his decision.
The Salt Lake Tribune thinks it helped as well because they mentioned it in their article Friday,
The mayor’s candidacy would delight Misty Fowler, who helped create the “Draft Peter Corroon for Governor in 2010” Facebook page that now has more than 1,100 followers. “Mayor Corroon will make an absolutely amazing governor,” said Fowler, who added she and many of Corroon’s Facebook followers would readily donate money and time to the campaign.
At the time of publication, nothing had been confirmed by Corroon’s camp. Later in the day, citizen Fowler actually broke the news on her blog and made the comment on her Facebook page “happy to have been able to get the official and verified news out before any news outlet. That made a great day better.” Misty is just a regular person just like you or I who is simply voicing her opinion.
Social media is going to help us all become more active with government. Government isn’t just about elections, it’s about how we live together as a community. CNN had a terrific piece a little while ago about this –
A host of larger U.S. cities from San Francisco to New York quietly have been releasing treasure troves of public data to Web and mobile application developers.
That may sound dull. But tech geeks transform banal local government spreadsheets about train schedules, complaint systems, potholes, street lamp repairs and city garbage into useful applications for mobile phones and the Web.
The aim is to let citizens report problems to their governments more easily and accurately; and to put public information, which otherwise may be buried in file cabinets and Excel files, at the fingertips of taxpayers.
Like Bono suggested, this technology is inverting the power pyramid.
By some accounts, the trend is turning the government-voter relationship on its head and could usher in a new era of grassroots democracy.
“I see [these applications] as the death of a passive relationship with government,” said Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, a group promoting Gov 2.0 apps.
“Instead of people saying, ‘Well, it’s the government’s job to fix that’ … people are taking ownership and saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Government is us. We are government. So let’s take a responsibility and start changing things ourselves.’ “
I’ve always considered the Internet to be the “great equalizer.” With social media products, we’re moving past equality and into influence. This is going to be amazing for the world by making it a much better place.
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