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Online Activism and Social Media

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Why Twitter, Facebook and their compatriots have changed the game. …

Why Twitter, Facebook and their compatriots have changed the game.

As delivered to Victorian Skeptics in June 2011

Published in: Technology, Business

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  • This is a completely new talk, related to but substantively different to my previous “OnlineSkeptical Activism 101”, which some people may have seen and which may already be available on recordings through the Sydney Atheists podcast or Western Sydney Freethinkers. This one takes a tighter focus and looks at why Social Media has entirely shifted the landscape for activism, and why skeptics should take note.
  • By Social Media, we mean online interaction that fosters persistent interpersonal “relationships” over the transient relationships that happened before what’s termed “Web 2.0” emerged.Key to Social Media is the newsfeed mechanism, whereby the activities of your social circle, known in the nascent Social Media industry as the “social graph”, are fed to you in an as-it-happens manner. This gives an immediacy to interactions which can add to the feeling of community. You can see what your circle is up to, and they in turn can see what you are up to.It has been said that Lampposts are social media for dogs.Activism is defined as Pronunciation:/ˈaktɪvɪz(ə)m/noun[mass noun]“the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.”Essentially, anyone who takes some kind of action to make a change in the world is engaging in activism, from Bob Geldof to Sea Shepherd to the JREF to, all manner of groups both morally sound *and* morally unsound. Tonight we’ll be sticking with morally sound, I think…And what’s in it for you? Well, if you’re already a user of Social Media, I hope you’ll get some tips on better leveraging your social graph. You probably are a social media user since at this time last year Australia and Brazil led the world in terms of Social media use. There are about 10 million Facebook accounts in AU as of May 2011. There are about 1.8 million Twitter accounts nominating Australia as their locationFacebook – approx 10 Million user accounts (12M UAVs)2. Youtube – 9.8 million UAVs / mo (down 200,000)3. Blogspot – 4.6 UAVs / mo (up 100,000)4. WordPress – 2.2 million UAVs / mo (down 200,000)5. Twitter – 1.8 million UAVs / mo (down 200,000)6. LinkedIn – 1.8 million UAVs / mo7. Flickr – 1.5 million UAVs / mo8. MySpace – 1 million UAVs / mo (down 100,000)9. Tumblr – 930,000 UAVs / mo (up 110,000)10. Digg – 200,000 UAVs / mo11. StumbleUpon – 150,000 UAVs / mo (down 20,000)12. Reddit – 100,000 UAVs / mo13*. Foursquare 64,000 UAVs / mo (down 13,000)14. Delicious – 69,000 UAVs / mo (up 1,000)15*. Gowalla 8,600 UAVs / mo (down 900)http://www.socialmedianews.com.au/social-media-statistics-australia-may-2011/http://thedma.com.au/blog/australian-online-marketing-trends-2011/And if you’re not a social media user, I intend to convert you, or at least tempt you to dip your toes in the pool and have a bit of a paddle, even if it’s with waterwings on.Who ever you are, feel free to chip in with questions or comments as we go.
  • I never considered myself an “activist” before the internet took over the world, but I did spend some time as a left-leaning pinko bleeding-heart vegetarian, and I occasionally protested, petitioned and postered. I even pamphleteered once or twice. It was hard work.A typical campaign in the days before Social Media could take days or weeks to be prepared and made ready, then weeks to months, even years, to mature to the point where a response became clear. Like steering a Supertanker, it could take an extremely long time to see the ship start to turn.Now, Social Media is here, and results can start to become apparent within a matter of hours. It’s a bit more like a formula one car, but without the in-you-face advertising and tanned Mediterranean babes. Mostly.The “old” approaches are completely still worth engaging in, especially for long, protracted campaigns with political and legal implications, but for many more rapid actions, such as bringing pressure to bear on corporate targets, you may not even get as far as rolling the old-media dice, because Social Media can sometimes bring results before you even have a mission statement drafted.
  • (GET IPHONE OUT)What’s it like now? Well now, you can do it all from your desk, or, with the advent of 3G-enabled devices like this one, from the bus, from the bar or, if the fancy takes you, from the bath. And once you’ve done it, thousands of other people can do the same. From wherever they are. I for one do a lot in the pub, or from my sofa. You can tell by my ever-increasing bulk.And the number of ways you can do it is huge. The diagram here is just a smattering of the most obvious social media channels, but let’s have a look at the overweight gorillas of the Social Media world [next]
  • The two key areas most people will be focusing on will, of course, be Twitter and Facebook, but the key things about Social Media are syndication, reusability, subscribability and integration. They all tie together, giving a unified experience where a user could, for instance, find a link on Twitter, follow that to a blog, which contains video from youtube and a link to a facebook page. That facebook page could link them to some documents on the Scribd service, Or have an embedded speech or podcast segment from SoundCloud. I am NOT saying that anything other than Twitter or Facebook is invalid somehow. They’re just the big huge gorillas in the room.All this can take place in a minute or two compared to the “old” way.
  • Facebook has always tried to be all things to all men, so there’s a plethora of ways to get word out.The primary way is through pages, events and groups. The landscape here is constantly changing. Stop The Avn, for example, started out as a group, added a page, kept running in the group due to better controls, then Facebook changed how groups work. It’s now running as a page with some backchannel discussions going on in other ways, so I guess the takeaway is “be prepared for facebook to pull the rug out”.Status updates will be the primary way, probably, of spreading word on individual topics, since the newsfeed is the core itemAds are relatively new and see mixed results, but the analytics are extremely detailed and the options so varied that you should probably try them out as a means of finding new blood and spreading the word.
  • So what should we be concentrating on with Twitter?Well, the service itself is extremely easy to grasp. 140 characters, state your case, hit submit. Anyone who follows you will then see that tweet. You, in turn, see messages from those you follow. SIMPLE.It’s like sending an SMS to the universe.But there are plenty of nuancesHashtags are a means of fostering community conversation. You can follow a hashtag using Twitter search, as easily as following a user. Hashtags are arenas in which battles roilRetweets are the lifeblood of any campaign. A retweet is another user essentially repeating what you’ve said. There are two ways of doing it, with commentary and without commentary, but without retweets, Twitter would be a much slower-moving placeDedicated accounts are Twitter accounts dedicated to a particular cause, best suited to long running campaigns, but there are plenty of them, and they can serve as clearing houses for centralised actions. @Ten23 is one example. @HighCourtNSCP is anotherTrends are a “what’s hot” element, so you can see what’s buzzing on twitter right now globally and regionally. Trending is a bit of a holy grail. There was a recent hashtag #AlicesBucketList because a teenage cancer sufferer just wanted to trend on twitter. There’s a bit of a double-edged sword element here because spammers love to exploit trending topics, and often trends are frivulous and a little daft, but so far an important trend hasn’t become unstuck because of spam. Trends can gain you more eyes and more voiceboxes by people being intrigued by a given topic. If your campaign can trend, it’ll have a life of its own, at least for a while.The heavy influencers you may want to look for, really, encompasses anyone with sympathies for your position and a large follower count. In skepticism we have people like Phil Plait, PZ Myers and a host of other players with tens of thousands of followers. Depending on the campaign, you’ll probably want Stephen Fry on board for his multi-million follower count.This slide is followed by a couple of examples of quite successful campaigns, some of which have seen startling results. I’ll start with something that makes me quite excited….
  • … though not in the way Wendy Francis of the Australian Christian Lobby thinks it does.This poster was placed around Brisbane by Healthy Communities Queensland during May 2011. On the 31st May, Adshel, the company displaying the messages on bus shelters and billboards, caved to a so-called “grassroots” campaign by The Australian Christian Lobby, orchestrated in a half-assed way by Wendy Francis, former Senate candidate and Twitter homophobe. Depending on the report, Either 40 or 75 or so letters of complaint made it in to the advertisers, which were enough to scare them into submission. This is a key point 1– it sometimes doesn’t take much effort to get corporates to take action.Of course, word soon made it to Twitter and Facebook. On the 1st of June, Social Media in Australia exploded with outrageWithin minutes of users learning of the takedown, the feeds started to light up, and information started to really flow. In-person protests were scheduled via facebook events and the street outside the Adshel offices got rather noisy. The names behind the campaign made it out, and the content of some of the letters, which made it clear that the objection for most writers was fear of the gay rather than Wendy’s later claim that it was about the sexualisation of children. Point 2: The ACL tried to claim responsibility, then tried to control the message and failed. They were either dishonest in their claims about the campaign’s aims, or they were appallingly bad at instructing their flying monkeys on what to write. On our side, arms were taken up from many angles. Some groups objected to the homophobic aspect. Others objected to religious groups meddling in public affairs, but the decentralised nature of the action mean there was no message control required from our side[next]
  • By the middle of June 1st, the “campaign” occupied six of the top ten trending topics for Australia on Twitter. This is how Trends looked on June 1st (and incidentally, this is what led to a complete change in the direction of this talk, just 20 days ago)In a stunning avalanche of tweets, the #ripnroll campaign achieved meaningful results in a 24-hour timeline. Late on June 1st, Adshel published a press release announcing the reinstatement of the ads. The ACL were largely humiliated (though it’s questionable how much shame they can actually feel) and the raw power of social media was writ large across the old media landscape. Newspapers had barely discovered the story before Social Media actually fixed the problem. They were left to pick up the pieces and analyze just what had happenedRipNRoll was, in large part, an emergent wave of outrage, something spontaneous and, for AdShel (and the ACL), quite scary. [discussion]To follow on from this example, let’s look at something else quite current that showcases a slightly less tempestuous sequence of events, and contrasts a carefully designed campaign with Rip and Roll’s explosive outburst
  • This is notochaplains.org, built by our friend Dave The Happy Singer with assistance from various people around the country. I’ve put this in because I really think it’s a fine example of a carefully designed hub for a wider social media campaignI like this because it’s really tightly focused. It manages to focus on the secular objections to the National School Chaplaincy Program without injecting its own ideological bias into the piece, which really is a hallmark of a careful campaign. It is politically and religiously neutral and gives no leverage to the religious lobby to call it a biased or bigoted campaign by a group of atheists dedicated to the downfall of god.Which, of course, it is, but don’t tell anyone.But this is a good point that both these campaigns teach us – focus on the actual objections and actual targets and make sure they’re clear. The ACL got it wrong with ripnroll and felt a backlash.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the two big players are of course, Facebook and Twitter, and NTC.org places these front and center in the sharing portion of the campaignThe tweet is elegant, really elegant“I say NO to chaplains! #NSCP @JuliaGillard @PGarrettMP @suqld #StopNSCP http://t.co/qdNS3C4”It’s also very honest. SUQLD merely claims “voices in support of”. The count on this page is mediated by twitter and facebook. There’s no possibility to lie here.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the two big players are of course, Facebook and Twitter, and NTC.org places these front and center in the sharing portion of the campaignThe tweet is elegant, really elegant“I say NO to chaplains! #NSCP @JuliaGillard @PGarrettMP @suqld #StopNSCP http://t.co/qdNS3C4”It’s also very honest. SUQLD merely claims “voices in support of”. The count on this page is mediated by twitter and facebook. There’s no possibility to lie here.
  • Tagjacking comes up here.#NSCP was plausibly neutral… maybe. @suqld are scripture union queensland. This was apparently an oversight, but I think it’s quite an effective piece of propaganda.There are people in the room who are masters of tagjacking.It adds some extra spice to a campaign. It’s probably not going to change that many minds. But changing minds isn’t the only aim. It is ethically OK to demoralise your opposition. No-one said we have to be nice all the time.WE SHOULD BE DOING THIS MORE, EVEN IF IT DOES INVITE THE BAD GUYS TO DO SIMILAR.
  • Shorty Awards (#voterachie) – Taking the Shorty Awards for science-based medicine(how I did it)#ten23 – was a website, some mentions on a podcast and a twitter hashtag, now a trans-national effort on multiple fronts(win)#stopAVN – started on Facebook, now 3000+ supporters, a thriving hashtag and a real-world effort.
  • What can we take away from this possibly-disjointed and freshly-minted talk?
  • I’d love to open up to the floor and maybe have some discussion…. Here are some starters
  • I love people asking questions, sharing ideas, all that good stuff. Friend me up.Someone you know will know – which is what social media really is. Sharing information with your friends
  • COME AND SEE US SAYING SILLY THINGS IN A PUBDave will be gigging, then we’ll both be doing a live In Vino Veritas Podcast, which you should subscribe to at www.invinoveritaspodcast.com
  • Transcript

    • 1. Jason Brown
      ONLINE ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL MEDIA
      Why Twitter, Facebook and their compatriots have changed the game
    • 2. First Things First
      Who am I?
      What do we mean by “Social Media”?
      What defines “Activism”?
      What’s in this talk for you?
    • 3. How It Was
      Organisation – meetings, phone calls
      Creating collateral
      Writing copy
      Obtaining permits
      Printing flyers and posters
      Letter writing
      Slow, laborious and frustrating
      But occasionally rewarding…
    • 4.
    • 5. The Engine Rooms
      The best of the rest
      YouTube and other video services
      Flickr and other image services
      AudioBoo and other audio channels
      Blogs and other text channels
      Foursquare and other location channels
    • 6. Facebook – Key Elements
      Pages
      Events
      Groups
      Status Updates
      Ads
    • 7. Twitter – Key Elements
      Hashtags
      Retweets
      Dedicated accounts
      Trends
      Heavy influencers
    • 8.
    • 9. #adshel
      #ripnroll
      #leadstosex
      Wendy Francis
      ACL
      Rip & Roll
    • 10.
    • 11. Two Clicks
      The big two are right there
      Sends a tweet to:
      @PGarrettMP
      @JuliaGillard
      @SUQLD
      #stopNSCP
      #NSCP
      And links back to the site
    • 12. The Message
      I say NO to chaplains!
      #NSCP @JuliaGillard
      @PGarrettMP @suqld
      #StopNSCP
      http://t.co/qdNS3C4
    • 13. And of course, there’s a trick here
      Note that NTC.org sends to the #NSCP hashtag. This was, at one point, a pro-chaplaincy tag
      Tagjacking is entirely legal, moral and, debatably, ethical.
      #SaveOurChaplains
      #HelpAVN
    • 14. There’s more
    • 15. Takeaways
      If you see yourself as an activist and aren’t a social media user, you might be doing it wrong.
      If you are a social media user and haven’t engaged in any activism, you might be doing it wrong
      If you are a social media user and you are an activist, friend me up.
    • 16. Some open questions
      Is the power of social media a symptom of corporate and government organisations’ inability to adapt to a new media form?
      If so, will we see the influence wane?
      What about the other guys? Can’t they do what we do?
      Is there an element of Tyranny of the Majority here?
    • 17. I AM AT
      http://twitter.com/drunkenmadman
      http://facebook.com/stopthatastronaut
      http://mycolleaguesareidiots.com
      http://youtube.com/stopthatastronaut
      http://soundcloud.com/stopthatastronaut
      #followactivistmonday
      And many other places
      If you can’t remember, someone you know will know.That’s what Social Media is all about
    • 18. I AM ALSO AT
      THE CLYDE HOTEL
      TOMORROW NIGHT
      WITH
      DAVE THE HAPPY SINGER
      AND
      THE IN VINO VERITAS PODCAST - LIVE
      For the bargain price of $5