Thank you for joining us either online or in print for ThinkSocial: Blueprints for Social Media in
the Public Interest v. 1.0.
We launched this ﬁrst version of Blueprints as a way to learn and to share about the dynamic
developments in the use of social media in the public interest around the world. As with any
“ﬁrst” version, this report will have some bugs and, without a doubt, you the reader will feel
that we have missed things, failed to look in the right places or talk to the right people, or
e ectively communicated ideas and information. Our main goal was to earn your respect
and spark a passion su cient to encourage you to move from reader to participant. The read-
write-share web of social media makes our e ort at ThinkSocial and, speciﬁcally, this report an
opening to a conversation and an invitation to your contribution. Cochair Sponsors
This is a ﬁrst draft of a longer e ort dedicated to the study and advancement of developments
in social media in the public interest that enable people to write history by acting online. It
features concept deﬁnitions and examples for ten trends that we believe are shaping the use of
social media in the public interest. We have compiled this list through interviews with public-
and private-sector leaders; analysis of initiatives, organizations and government programs;
reviews of industry and mainstream news coverage; and submissions from thousands of
online participants. The Loreen Arbus
Our objective was to o er useful concepts and examples that can inform and inspire people Foundation
and institutions seeking to use social media in the public interest. While social media in the
public interest is changing fast, it is clear to see that there are emerging practices being
leveraged by people and organizations to create tremendous impact. But there are also some
dark clouds forming, as certain people and governments seek to hold back the freedom of
expression and organizing that social media allows.
The ThinkSocial team would like to thank everyone who has contributed to make the inaugural
ThinkSocial Awards process and this ﬁrst version of Blueprints a success. The Paley Center
for Media has been a fantastic home base for ThinkSocial and we are excited to be included
as part of the dynamic Paley Center community. We would like to particularly thank the sta
of the Paley Center including Pat Mitchell, Christy Carpenter, Max Robins, Ben Scheim, Peter
Herdrich, Ellen O’Neill and Jack Chen. And also Colin Nagy and Naomi Hirabayashi of Attention.
We would also like to make a particular note of thanks to Vince Stehle of the Surdna
Thanks to Kimberly Chou, Lauren Hurst and the team at City Light Capital.
Please visit the Think Social website for more information about the initiative and a look at the
inaugural ThinkSocial honorees: Kiva; SocialVibe; and the March 18 Movement.
Jamie Daves Toby Daniels
Executive Director Director
Important Milestones for
Social Media and Social
Change in 2009
. . . . .. ~ . .
President Barack Obama takes o ce Ashton Kutcher beats CNN.com to become Social game company Zynga introduces
and is the ﬁrst President to actively use the ﬁrst Twitter user to reach 1M followers virtual goods to raise money for causes.
social media as a part of his domestic and and as winner donates 10,000 mosquito Zynga’s “Sweet Seeds for Haiti” initiative in
international communications outreach. bed nets to charity for World Malaria Day its Farmville game generates more than
(April 25). half a million dollars raised for nonproﬁts in
During the Inauguration, CNN and Haiti during the ﬁrst two weeks in October.
Facebook partnered to allow Facebook
users to provide live commentary on the
CNN feed. During the ceremony Facebook . . ~ . .
received over 600,000 status updates and . . ~ . .
CNN.com served more than 21.3 million live Retail giant Target invites Facebook
video streams. users to choose how it gives away $3M in Through the United Nations Stand Up Take
charitable donations. For a short time, the Action – End Poverty Now campaign more
company let Facebook users decide how to than 173 million people participated in the
allocate this money to a list of 10 charities. largest mobilization around a single cause.
. . Events were organized and coordinated
via Facebook, Twitter and Stand Up’s
Earthhour.org (an initiative of the WWF) interactive website.
mobilized an estimated 4,088 cities in . .
88 countries to participate in Earth Hour
2009, ten times more cities than Earth The Green Revolution in Iran beginning
on June 13th goes global faster, wider ..
and longer because of courageous active
Micro-lending leader Kiva.org crosses the
Earthhour.org asked households and witnesses in Iran and dedicated organizers
$100M threshold of micro-loans provided
businesses to turn o their non-essential leveraging social media around the world.
to deserving entrepreneurs in four years.
lights and other electrical appliances for Founded in 2005, Kiva.org has provided
one hour to raise awareness towards the loans to more than 239,000 entrepreneurs
need to take action on climate change. in over 50 countries. Upwards of 573,000
.. lenders have given through Kiva.org,
July 1—later postponed—was the proposed lending over $100 million at the end of
date that all of China’s new computers October 2009 — an increase of nearly $60
would be equipped with ﬁltering software, million since the same time in 2008.
an issue that prompted international
outcry about censorship and monitoring.
This report was prepared and written by
Jamie Daves and Kimberly Chou
and printed on November 17, 2009.
Active witnessing occurs when individuals
or groups share information and stories
about important and often dramatic events
through the use of digital tools such as
cellphone cameras and social media utilities
including blogs, microblogging (Twitter,
Tumblr), and social media platforms and
networks (Facebook, Myspace).
Active witnessing has been around since
!An Iranian Twitter user who went by the name “persiankiwi” became one of the most
before the time of Homer and the Iliad, but
symbolic voices of the so-called Green Revolution during Iran’s contested presidential
never before have so many people been
elections this year. Persiankiwi was frequently retweeted by followers and cited by the
able to share so much information, so fast,
international press for his or her tweets that illustrated the increasingly dramatic events
and with so many others. The substance,
that followed the election, chronicling in 140 characters or less the heady atmosphere of
speed and scale of active witnessing are
citizens’ pro-democracy mobilization and the terror of violent government crackdown. When
changing what is “news” and what grabs
persiankiwi’s Twitter account fell dead after this June 24th tweet—Allah - you are the creator
the world’s attention.
of all and all must return to you - Allah Akbar -#Iranelection Sea of Green—followers feared
the same fate for its author, whose identity and fate is still unknown.
Active witnesses living in places
characterized by oppression and violence
!A long-established “active witness” network is Witness.org, a non-proﬁt that empowers
are increasingly being targeted by
people to tell stories of human rights abuses through video technology. Inspired by founder
their governments and opponents of
Peter Gabriel’s 1988 Human Rights Now! Tour—where the musician brought along a Sony
free expression. But, the same social
Handycam to document stories of people he met—today the Witness.org site hosts an
networks which help active witnesses
online video-sharing community where members can upload videos, audio and photos. This
get information out to the world are
initiative, dubbed “the Hub,” was prompted two years ago by the growing popularity of video
now mobilizing to protect them—letting
and camera-enabled phones.
their oppressors know that they are not
forgotten. !Ushahidi means “testimony” in Swahili, a ﬁtting name for a website developed to map
reports of violence in Kenya after the 2008 presidential election. Ushahidi has spawned
Ushahidi Engine, a platform that allows people worldwide to set up personalized ways to
gather and map news via mobile phone, email and the web.
Social looping occurs when organizations
meaningfully connect people to the impact
their participation (ﬁnancial, social or
political) has created for a cause and
provide tools to inspire and enable those
people to reach out and encourage their
social graph to take further action.
Why have online initiative such as charity:
water, DonorsChoose.org and Kiva grown
so fast and generated such brand a ection? Examples include:
E ective social looping has a lot to do
!Fast-growing charities that try to illustrate where exactly donations are going include
Invisible Children, a non-proﬁt that spreads awareness about child soldiers in Northern
Supporters of a cause or charity want Uganda, educational charity DonorsChoose.org, and charity: water.
to know the destination of their
!Invisible Children, for example, as part of its Schools for Schools campaign, blogs photos of
donations, and non-proﬁt organizations
schools being built thanks to donations from Invisible Children supporters.
and donation platforms like charity:
water, DonorsChoose.org and Kiva are
!DonorsChoose.org posts photos and thank-you notes from the students whose classrooms
answering that question with information
received requested school supplies or were able to go on an educational ﬁeld trip based on
and powerful storytelling and images.
donations from the site.
Furthermore, they are making it easy for
their participants to share speciﬁc people !And on its website, charity: water uses Google Earth maps to track progress of wells and
and initiatives in need and to celebrate the other charity: water projects and their partners across the world.
successes along the way.
Social production or mass collaborating
occurs when large numbers of people work
independently on a single project, often
modular in its nature, to create a product of
signiﬁcant value and complexity. Wikipedia
is probably the best known example on the
Internet, but many more in almost every !This May, TED launched an ambitious, mass-sourced endeavor to translate TEDTalks into the
area of endeavor are being organized by world’s languages. Run from a platform by dotSUB, version 1.0 of TED’s Open-Translation
individuals, organizations and companies. Project launched with 300 translations in 40 languages, and 200 volunteer translators. To
start, a handful of talks were translated professionally into 20 languages, but going on, the
Crowd-sourcing has enabled organizations
project will be completely reliant on volunteers from Beijing to Beirut, who use a platform
to tackle ambitious, large-scale projects,
created by TED and technology partner dotSUB. As of this past weekend, there were
otherwise near impossible to do with just
TEDTalks in 58 languages, from 1267 translators providing 2907 translations. On the TED
a sta and limited budget. As the motto
site’s translations page, there are charts that illustrate how many translations are in each
to mass-sourced reporting service Help a
language, and proﬁles of translators.
Reporter Out (HARO) says, “Everyone is
an expert at something.” While recruiting !Architecture for Humanity is dedicated to “building a more sustainable future using the
many people to pitch in to actualize a power of design,” which includes not-for-proﬁt projects that range from schools in Uganda
product is not a new idea, the examples we to a skateboarding-and-life-skills center in Afghanistan to community-designed housing in
found in the past year highlight how new the American Southwest. Part of that mission includes its Open Architecture Network, an
technologies allow projects of greater scale open-source platform where designers, educators and non-proﬁt organizations who have
and ambition to become reality. volunteered their time and resources can share and comment on each others projects, and
collaborate with each other.
!The power of crowds can also be seen in one aspect of PatientsLikeMe, a network of web
communities where members are united by their chronic and terminal illnesses: the data
that members provide is funneled to research institutions and companies, who then use the
information to improve care and treatment for those diseases. Money that these partners
pay for the data then goes toward running the PatientsLikeMe online communities.
Social aligning occurs when institutions
engage with their constituents, consumers
or other important stakeholders through
social media to identify and take collective
action on shared goals—often goals
with a public purpose. Governments
are increasingly using social media to
engage citizens in policy development and
planning. Companies are using social media
to listen to customers, communicate in
more personalized ways, and design
pro-social campaigns that activate Examples include:
customer communities to work with
the company to make a di erence. The !SocialVibe helps corporations translate part of their brand-marketing budgets into
byproducts of social aligning for companies charitable contributions, directing the money toward branded activities that consumers can
and governments include greater brand do on SocialVibe.com, blog platforms and social networks.
reach and identiﬁcation, increased product
purchases, and higher levels of political !Retail giant Target gives 5% of what it makes, or about $3 million a week, to charity. For two
support. The net-native generation of weeks this past May, Target recruited Facebook users to help the corporation decide which
so-called Millennials increasingly expect ten charities would receive the “Bullseye Gives” funds and what percentage of the money the
companies to communicate with them selected charities would receive.
via social media, and to have clear social
beneﬁt initiatives that demonstrate the !Goodness500.org is an attempt to rank companies based on corporate social responsibility.
companies’ corporate social responsibility. Think of Goodness500.org as an alternative, socially motivated Fortune 500 rankings
set: Goodness500.org’s free, accessible-to-anyone database helps consumers learn which
companies have the best policies towards LGBT employees, for example, or which companies
employ the highest percentage of female executives, or use renewable energy sources.
!Since 2007, Google Earth Outreach has awarded grants to non-proﬁts and public beneﬁt
organizations, enabling them to use Google Earth & Maps tools to better illustrate their
causes. The Outreach suite of tools includes a gadget that helps a user create layers of
placemarks using Google Docs, and another that lets users embed Google Earth KML map
ﬁles directly in their blogs or websites. The Outreach program site links to third-party
resources as well, including free software for using geo-tagged photos in Google Earth. And
Google even encourages organizations to apply for other companies’ grants for satellite
imagery and other similar products.
!Media sites are jumping on the philanthropy trend, too. The Daily Beast launched a new
section this fall in collaboration with Global Philanthropy Group. Dubbed “Giving Beast,” this
part of the site hosts articles, videos and photo galleries highlighting causes, with links at
the end of each feature that take readers to cause websites. Uber-aggregator Hu ngton
Post also launched its own socially conscious section, Hu Post Impact, in a partnership with
Social transacting occurs when people Examples include:
spend time or money online engaged
in activities that generate ﬁnancial and !In Zynga’s popular virtual farming game, FarmVille, players can purchase certain charity-
social value for causes. People engage in linked items with their virtual currency. Zynga’s “Sweet Seeds for Haiti” promotion, where
activities such as social games or spend 50% of proceeds from beneﬁted Haitian charities FONKOZE.org and FATEM.org, generated
money online for the acquisition of virtual more than half a million dollars raised for the charities. Players that bought certain pets (a
goods and social game experiences in order bulldog, or a cat) on Zynga’s YoVille game generated donations for the San Francisco chapter
to generate contributions for causes and of animal protection society SPCA.
social currency for the purchaser. Social
transactions are exploding along with !Online game Free Rice quizzes players on vocab; for each question answered correctly,
the growth of social gaming and virtual players earn 10 grains of rice toward the United Nations Food Program. Supporters of the
goods marketplaces. Participation in social cause can also download a Free Rice toolbar: using it for searches also earns grain donations,
gaming is generating new forms of social without any dent in your wallet.
capital among user communities who are
!GamesThatGive features online versions of casual games like solitaire and Sudoku on its
in turn taking action together to make a
website, and all can be played for free—the charitable link is that 70% of the money from
advertisers goes toward di erent charities. Both GamesThatGive’s sponsors and charity
partners are some of the biggest names in their respective areas, including Pepsi and
Domino’s Pizza, and UNICEF and City Year.
Flash activism occurs when people—often Examples include:
not self-identifying as organizers—launch
and participate in fast-formed organizing !In October, an initial tweet by editor Alan Rusbridger— “Now Guardian prevented from
campaigns through social media in reporting parliament for unreportable reasons. Did John Wilkes live in vain?”, regarding a
response to signiﬁcant global, national or gag order on documents related to shipping company Traﬁgura’s 2006 dumping scandal—
local events. Citizen mobilization around started a chain of investigation by Guardian readers. Over the weekend—using WikiLeaks,
a news event is nothing new, but with searching government websites, and using Twitter—readers uncovered enough about the
social media and mass texting technology, gagged scientiﬁc report on the sludge Traﬁgura dumped outside Cote D’Ivoire to pressure
there’s potential for rallying people to take the company to relent. Thanks to a combination of new media tools and traditional
action at unprecedented volumes, and from journalistic sense of snooping, the Guardian was able to report on material it had previously
anywhere in the world. been barred from.
!Take, for example, rallies against Proposition 8 in California. Cell phone company CREDO
Mobile helped people angry about the ban on same-sex marriage assemble protests all over
California. By texting a shortcode with your zip code, you would receive a message in return
about the rally nearest you.
Internet censoring and monitoring occurs
when governments or companies control
or suppress the publishing or accessing
of information on the internet. Internet
censorship and monitoring is on the rise
in many nations containing some of the
world’s biggest populations. While private
control over the Internet and its distributed
nature make it hard to do, governments
are getting increasingly sophisticated at !Earlier this year, China announced a controversial order that all computers be equipped with
blocking access and using monitoring to an internet ﬁlter, dubbed Green Dam, by July 1st, 2009. Intended to restrict pornography,
track their own people. People now must the software could also be used to restrict other things—prompting even greater outcry
weigh the practical and emotional beneﬁts about censorship and monitoring. Leading up to the July 1st date, however, the mandatory
of sharing online through social media installation of the software on all new computers was delayed to an undetermined date; and
against the possibility that the information in August, China’s minister of information technology announced that Green Dam wouldn’t
may be used against them. be required on personal- and business-use computers, but would be still be run on all public-
!China’s Golden Shield Project, also known as the Great Firewall of China, blocks websites
and searches related to any suspicious terms—which means “democracy,” “Falun Gong” and
“Tibet,” as well as “pornography,” in a browser turn up error messages.
!During the post-election fallout in Iran, Twitter postponed a maintenance update—after
being asked to by bloggers and o cials from the U.S. State Department, among others—and
kept the servers on so Iranians could continue to tweet about what was going on in the
!There are also small signs that citizen-run, progressive movements are getting through to
the right people. This fall, Australian non-proﬁt GetUp! started a “Censordyne” campaign
against the government’s internet ﬁltering program, running full-age ads in newspaper “The
Australia” declaring the thousands of people that had signed its petition, and broadcasting
on TV and online a series of parody videos. In October, it was announced that there would be
a public consultation on the issue before the government proceeds, and the prime minister
will be addressing it in a web chat.
Causecasting occurs when people
share their cause-related activities with
their networks through social media.
Causecasting is one of the most popular
forms of social media communication
as people seek to involve their extended
networks in e orts meaningful to them and
to demonstrate their social responsibility
in ways that generate social currency Examples include:
and appreciation for their willingness
to help others. Some critics claim that !The “Causes” application allows Facebook users to request that their friends make donations
causecasting often veers into “slacktivism” to various charities, by way of an application installed on proﬁle pages. The “Causes” blog
when people overestimate the beneﬁts of also gives suggestions to people on how to get more supporters to click for change, such as
a social media communication and engage asking for birthday donations and regularly updating a “Cause feed.”
in e orts mainly to make themselves look
good. !Another example is Mycharity : water, charity: water’s user-personalized pages. Charity:
water’s “Born in September” campaign was inspired by charity: water’s founder, Scott
New tools make it easier than ever to Harrison asking friends on his September birthday to donate money, which in turn went
ask your friends to donate to a charity to a refugee camp to build wells. Now the organization is asking that people give up their
on birthdays, weddings or other special birthday, wedding and anniversary gifts and have friends donate money to charity: water
occasions. And because donations through instead. The mycharity: water part of the website enables users to create their own
the “Causes” application on Facebook show fundraising pages and raise money for any occasion, any time of the year.
up in friends’ newsfeeds, those charitably
inclined online can also wear their do-
gooder status on their proverbial sleeves.
Causecasting has been the subject of
increasing media attention, including a
New York Times trend piece November 11 that
used “Causes” as an example.
Open government occurs when
governments “democratize” information
by making all or signiﬁcant amounts
!The United States government’s transparency initiatives include data.gov, which provides
of information and data held by the
information on government spending. When this tech dashboard launched earlier this
government available to the public and
summer, it came with an open invitation to developers, asking them to create tools using
use social media to communicate and
the datasets. Said President Obama’s Chief Information O cer Vivek Kundra at the time,
engage with citizens. Independent e orts
data.gov represents a “democratizing of information.”
to open up and use government data have
grown in number and sophistication. The !Pressuring the government to be more transparent are organizations like the Sunlight
government can make data available, Foundation. The Sunlight Foundation helps citizens, bloggers and journalists “be there
but it is up to citizens often leveraging own best watchdogs” (as its website reads) by creating tools and websites, and relaying
social production and communication information on how to foster greater transparency in the U.S.
approaches to make that data valuable and
understandable to an engaged citizenry. !Indie activists and innovators are creating and spreading around new tools. Jim Gilliam
has created online platforms that allow people to demonstrate how truly representative
democracy would work—voting on initiatives that they would like their governments to
institute. Gilliam has also harnessed the potential of Twitter for civic engagement purposes
with projects like Tweet Progress (a directory of progressives), GovLuv (connecting citizens
and leaders via Twitter) and act.ly (activism tools for Twitter, such as petitions and retweets).
Digital Divide 2.0
Leapfrogging occurs when people gain
internet connectivity for the ﬁrst time
via wireless services instead of using
more traditional wireline services. This
is particularly prevalent in developing
countries in Africa and Asia. But, especially !With the intention to help any and all non-proﬁt organizations interested in mobile
in the developing world, connectivity technologies—no matter their size or budget—Kiwanja.net provides ICT-related services to
does not necessarily translate to people non-proﬁts in 40-plus countries. Services include free consultancy, workshops and general
having access to and using powerful social advice, as well as access to the technology through its FrontlineSMS and nGOmobile
software. Research by Nokia and others initiatives, with a focus on developing countries and emphasis on low-cost, sustainable
point to a new Digital Divide 2.0 reﬂecting solutions.
a divide between people who can and do
use social media and people who can’t and !Voxiva is another tech ﬁrm that champions “the power of the internet, the reach of the
don’t. E orts are now underway to develop phone” (as the language on its website says). HealthConnect, for example, is a suite of
social media that can work for people in the tools that uses web, mobile, email and interactive voice to better manage their health.
developing world who are coming online Through HealthConnect, users can get reminders about medical appointments, take risks
ﬁrst through mobile devices. assessments and track their health with a diary utility, among other things.
THINKSOCIAL at THE PALEY CENTER FOR MEDIA
A D VA N C I N G T H E P U B L I C I N T E R E S T O F S O C I A L M E D I A
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