ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Conversations, Ghosts, and Pentimenti in the Hallways

February 10, 2018

The halls of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting is fully underway, have never felt more lively or filled with stimulating, deeply thoughtful conversations to me. Nor have they ever felt so filled by ghosts.

I have, frankly, lost track of the number of times I have been here for ALA and ATD (Association for Talent Development) conferences. And, as I walked the conference center hallways yesterday morning—only yesterday; already feels like weeks ago—for my first onsite activity during the 2018 Midwinter Meeting, I felt worlds melting into each other. Intellectually, I knew I was here to spend time with my trainer-teacher-learner-doer colleagues working in the library industry. But somehow my body was instinctively reconnecting me viscerally with friends and colleagues I met during previous visits, as if their ghosts—conference-center pentimenti or some other form of presence—remained long after they had returned home. I found myself thinking about attending sessions scheduled for other (previous) conferences as if they were still about to happen.

Repeatedly then and now—nearly a day and a half  later—I found and find myself looking for and expecting to see friends (some still alive, some now long-gone) encountered during previous ATD and ALA conferences. And it was—and is—comforting and reassuring because it reminds me that the wonderful, ongoing ALA conference slogan—“the conversation starts here…”—only captures part of the overall experience of participating in any well-organized conference.

Conversations both start and continue here, in the sort of extended moment I have explored numerous times in blog posts and conversations. And here, in our wonderfully blended onsite-online world, is far more than the physical conference center spaces. Here is the rooms, the hallways, the simple yet masterfully organized spaces including the Networking Uncommons—where you can stop in anytime the conference is underway, grab a table, recharge your laptop and mobile devices, and with planning aforethought as well as magic of the unplanned moment, see exactly the right person at the right time to talk and dream and plan in ways that produce results you (all) would not have otherwise produced. And, equally importantly, here is the online spaces we create through Twitter backchannels, Facebook, Google Hangouts, and numerous other tools we use to reach out to our #ALALeftBehind colleagues who, in a very real sense, need no longer feel left behind—if they care to join us virtually.

When I’ve been “left behind,” I’ve experimented successfully with ways to virtually join my onsite colleagues—to the point that I’ve received tweets asking me if I’m actually onsite. So when I am lucky enough to be onsite, I work with others to actively reach out to offsite colleagues. And, again, it works. While attending a wonderful 90-minute “Adult Book Buzz” talk sponsored by HarperCollins Publishers this morning, I tweeted out a few quotes and a few links so those who following the #ALALeftBehind hashtag so they would have glimpses of what was occurring onsite—and I saw the reach of those tweets extended through retweets.

The event itself was masterfully facilitated by our HarperCollins hosts (Library Marketing Director Virginia Stanley, Marketing Associate Christopher Connolly, and Marketing Assistant Lainey Mays): as they were describing a wonderfully rich list of upcoming novels and nonfiction works from their authors, they occasionally brought those offsite authors onsite by showing brief, engaging, videos from authors who had taped greetings to us and brief descriptions of their works that are about to be published. (And it worked! Christopher Moore’s brief, very funny introduction to his upcoming novel Noir sent me over to the HarperCollins booth in the conference exhibits area late in the day to pick up an advance reader’s edition of the books so I don’t have to wait until April—when it’s scheduled to hit the bookstores and our libraries—to read it.) It gets better: our “left behind” colleagues will, a few days after I post this blog piece, be able to virtually attend the session by viewing a recording of it on a new site HarperCollins is about to launch. (I’ll update this article by adding a link to the recording as soon as it is available.)

We really are in what feels to be the early stages of an entire change in the way we meet, communicate, and engage with each other. What I have joking referred to as those “ghosts” in the hallway are actually quite real; when I want to viscerally and virtually re-engage with them, I can go back to pieces I’ve written about our conversations, reread those pieces, incorporate them into later pieces (like this one), and extend the elastic moment of conversation further by adding to it with additional tweets, Facebook postings, Google Hangouts, something as simple as a newly-initiated phone call from the conference center, or a follow-up face-to-face conversation next time we’re actually in this (or another) conference center together. (I actually did attempt to draw in a colleague who is missing the annual Midwinter Meeting for the first time since we began attending them together—the spontaneous attempt to create a Google Hangout with her so I could “walk” the aisles of the exhibits area when it first opened last night was not successful—and we actually chatted by phone for a few minutes to I could teasingly describe all the things she was—not quite—seeing. But when you and I think about those failed and successful attempts, we realize that the concept of being “left behind” is only as large and insurmountable as we and our imaginations allow it to be.

So, I write this piece in honor of all the colleagues I have seen, am seeing, and will ever see when we are “together” at the ALA Midwinter Meeting or Annual (summer) Conference), the ATD International Conference & Exposition, and other professional-family gatherings. I hope it inspires you to reach out via Twitter, Facebook, phone, or any other available means when you are here and others aren’t. And I hope it inspires you to reach out in those same and other ways when you are offsite—and ready to be onsite as quickly as your virtual modes of transportation can get you here. Let’s give those “ghosts” the attention and support they need; the rewards to every member of our communities and to the communities themselves are virtually limitless.


Changing the World With Samantha Adams Becker (Part 2 of 2)

February 10, 2018

This is the second half of an interview conducted with Samantha Adams Becker, President at SAB Creative & Consulting and former New Media Consortium Publications & Communications Senior Director, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). Part 1 of this interview is accessible on “Building Creative Bridges” through this link. The entire interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

What major differences (positive and negative)—if any—do you see between your use of Twitter and Facebook?

I think I’m far more liberal in terms of what I share on Twitter. I view it as more of platform for experiments and iteration of thoughts. That’s interesting because my twitter profile is public while my Facebook one is private. You’d think I’d be more discerning about sharing in a public platform but that’s the exact principle that makes me more prone to share on Twitter. It’s a public, come-as-you-are community. Things move so fast that typos are par for the course.



On Facebook, because it’s private, I’m specifically friends with people who have requested a friendship or whose friendship I have requested. It’s more personal in that regard, so my posts are generally about my personal life—photos of my baby, my dog, my vacation. And I try not to post too many times per day out of fear of saturating people’s newsfeeds. Social media politeness! On Twitter, as I mentioned above, it’s not uncommon to tweet five times in a row in the span of a couple minutes—which makes it far more conversational.

And I think that’s the gist—to me, Facebook is more of a one-way street for personal use whereas Twitter is a vibrant continuous conversation!

What is one strikingly positive example of a way that you’ve used or seen Twitter used to promote social change?

The #MeToo movement is an obvious, but powerful, one. Suddenly, people who were scared to share something deeply personal were empowered to tell their stories because other people were doing it. I don’t think that movement could have spread as rapidly on any other platform because of continuous conversation factor. There’s Snapchat, Instagram, and new social platforms emerging all the time, but Twitter has remained loyal to the idea of words. And in spite of the growth of videos and infographics, etc. words. Are. Still. Powerful currency.

Tips to readers of this book who are interested in knowing how to most effectively use Twitter to facilitate social change?

Start by following people you are genuinely interested in. Some percentage of those people will follow you back and become part of your community.

Don’t just tweet how you are feeling, what you believe, etc.—pay attention to what other people are saying and doing. It’s a two-way street. You’d never have a conversation with a friend that’s just you sharing about your life; you’d ask questions and you’d listen to their responses thoughtfully.

If you’re interested in a subject, a simple Internet search of what related hashtags are popular will open up a whole world to you to learn more on that subject. And, if you use those hashtags in your own tweets, they (and you!) become more discoverable.

Anything else I haven’t asked that you think we should be discussing in terms of introducing Twitter for social change to the readers of this book?

Nobody likes an egghead. [The egg icon is the default image accompanying a new account until a user provides a customized image, so the egg suggests a new, inexperienced user to those familiar with Twitter.] Add a real profile photo!

Also, if you’re just starting out on Twitter as an individual or a business, do not purchase followers. You may get a lot of followers, but will they really be interested and prone to act on your calls to action? Relevance is key. You want to surround yourself with people relevant to your work life/personal life etc. Authenticity! Quality over quantity, every time.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the eighth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress. 

Changing the World With Samantha Adams Becker (Part 1 of 2)

February 9, 2018

This is the first half of an interview conducted with Samantha Adams Becker, President at SAB Creative & Consulting and former New Media Consortium Publications & Communications Senior Director, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited. The interview began with an exercise that involved jotting down as many words that came to mind after hearing the word “Twitter.”

Obvious things I see as I have all three [of our interview] transcripts in front of me: “sharing” and “networking” came up in all three—no surprises there. Anything stand out to you as you look at your responses to “Twitter?”

I think the idea of continuous conversation and PD [personal development] jump out the most—plus the “unedited” version of Twitter, because it’s a very “respond in the moment” platform.

Let’s go with three themes you mentioned, one at a time: “heart,” “continuous conversation,” and “professional development.” How does Twitter suggest “heart” to you?

Twitter features the heart button, which is the equivalent of “like” on Facebook and LinkedIn. However, in Facebook it seems more common to “like” something rather than share it; whereas on Twitter, sharing (or re-tweeting) appears to be more common. It’s an important distinction that a user makes deciding whether to simply “heart” something vs. re-tweet it. Re-tweeting essentially means you are agreeing with it or find enough merit in it to share it with your own community (unless you add a comment clarifying your own stance). So, offering up a “heart” is like saying, “I like your idea enough to say that I do, but not enough to expose my whole following to it.” It’s very interesting social-psychologically.

Thanks; sort of like second-class social, isn’t it…As for “continuous conversation”: initial thoughts behind that one?

Yes, I think Twitter—more so than any other social media platform—allows for continuous conversation. If one of your Facebook friends made 10 posts per day, you might find that a bit excessive. However, you may find it completely acceptable that a friend tweets 10 times in a day. That reaction alone points to Twitter as a much more embraced conversation/sharing platform. Not only can a discussion continue between multiple users, but you can continue your own conversation. That is to say, if you tweet an article about artificial intelligence in education, and then you go to a workshop on that subject the next day, you’re able to follow up with your reactions and opinions using a specific hashtag.

Perhaps most essentially, a conversation you may have started in person can continue on Twitter. This seems to be very popular at conferences where you may have a brief encounter with a person who winds up being a lifelong friend because you’re able to transition your connection to Twitter and respond to each other’s Tweets.

That very much parallels a theme I’m already exploring in the first-draft-in-progress: the value and inherently unique nature of conversation onlinewhat has become a “moment” that extends over days, weeks, months, even years as a strange variation of a “moment.” You seeing extended conversations like those and, if so, how is that changing the way you view the concepts of time and conversation?

I love the way you are interpreting a “moment.” Twitter now has a moments feature that allows you to add a series of tweets or photos that represents a moment in your life.

Now, a conversation doesn’t have to take place in real-time to be considered deep and meaningful; it can stretch on for our entire lives. I think about the “moment” I met my husband—online. Granted, it was a specific online dating platform, but our correspondence was through a series of messages before we met in person. I’d say that’s a 21st-century way to describe the “moment” you meet someone, but I also liken it to earlier centuries where people wrote to each other via snail-mail back and forth, and maybe saw each other once [a year] or every few years. Twitter is like that, but responses can instantaneous—if the user sees fit. A user can be inspired by a tweet and meditate on it for an evening or a few days before responding, and that is perfectly acceptable within the frame of a conversation.

I see extended conversations take place all the time, oftentimes organized by hashtags. I think this is what Tweet-Ups are essentially—scheduled conversations (or unscheduled) that are continued once a week, once a month, etc.

[here’s a link to the article that initiated that thought process a few years ago among a few of us in #etmooc [the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course in early 2013]:]

Very cool!

And it actually initiated an ongoing conversation I’ve had in bits and pieces with the authors over the past few years; I was just in touch again with one of them in Novemberjust before I was doing a blended-learning presentation in Los Angeles. A very long, wonderfully extended moment that hasn’t yet ended!

Going back to what you said in the penultimate full paragraph you wrote: what does that suggest in terms of how we can use Twitter (and other social media tools) to promote positive social change? [the one that starts with “Now, a conversation doesn’t have to take place in real-time to be considered deep and meaningful”]

Twitter enables positive social changes by transcending the necessity of a specific time and place. A conversation about climate change, for example, may begin between two people. Another person sees the tweet and then joins. And then another. And then another. The people are geographically dispersed and may not be using Twitter at the exact same time but, because Twitter sparks continuous conversation, people can join on their own time whenever they have something to contribute. And the asynchronous nature of it doesn’t detract from the subject matter or substance of it. In fact, pausing to think deeply about something before joining in is an important part of change.

When Paolo Gerbaudo wrote his wonderful book Tweets and the Streets in 2012, he pretty much saw social media (Facebook and Twitter, in particular) as prequels to social changethat’s where the organizing took placebut the real action was on the streets. Your last comments make me think you and I are on the same page in thinking that social change can actually take place as much online as in the streetssay, through the NMC [New Media Consortium] and #etmooc, for example, where we have spread ideas that filter into online as well as online learning spaces. Thoughts?

It’s not just the concept of a conversation that has evolved, but also the concept of the streets. Think about it—if conference organizers are savvy enough to encourage Twitter backchannels as an essential part of conference participation to extend organic hallway conversations, than that’s the concept of an online hallway.

A street may not be a private or more intimate conversation the way a hallway one may be, but, instead, a giant public space for conversation and action.

At the NMC [which closed upon entering bankruptcy proceedings in December 2017], we were good at carrying forward conversations from face-to-face and virtual events on Twitter. Our goal was to always extend the rich discussions that took place at a set event and ensure that they did not exist within a vacuum. You didn’t have to be physically present to “be present.”

We came up with the Horizon hashtag (#NMChz) as a way for people to respond to Horizon Reports—but also share articles, stories, projects, etc. that were Horizon-worthy. Twitter can take a static report and allow the related discussions to continue year-round. Horizon Street! Population: Whoever wants to be there.

“Horizon Street” is gorgeous! And I agree that the hashtag was part of the experience. Instead of leaving conferences and feeling depressed by impending separations, I always left with a sense of anticipation that the conversations were continuing. I’m struggling to train myself, at this point, that #NMChz is no longer open to through traffic and continuing conversationbut appreciation that #BeyondTheHorizon is a wonderful replacement road that is well on its way to bridging the gap. OK, enough with the road metaphors…for a moment. Let’s hit the third of the three topics you mentioned earlier: professional development. Care to pick up right where you left off and wrap together social media, Twitter, “moments,” and professional development into an operatic grand finale?

It’s true—all these features are connected, and they can add up to one hell of a professional development experience. I think some people may still envision professional development as something that takes place in a room—workshop or boot-camp style—that you or the institution has to invest in. But the integration of formal and informal learning has opened up the idea of personal development to be much more fluid and open to each user’s interpretation. If you feel an experience has enriched your professional life and given you new tools, skills, or knowledge to improve your own work and work environment, then why not call it professional development?

Twitter conversations and moments are ripe for professional development opportunities—the hard part is often the lack of organization and ability to archive. We’re even seeing helpful tools like Storify—that helped create something linear and meaningful from tweets—disappear.

That being said, following specific users, hashtags, lists, etc can be part of a user’s professional development strategy. It’s very much connected with the notion of a personal learning network (PLN) where there is a fixed or expanding community of peers and leaders where you teach other things.

I, for example, love to see what articles my Twitter friends in #edtech share. Just clicking on the links to three to five articles per day and reading them helps expand my own vision and ideas. Even if I don’t agree with an article or a theme, it generates new ideas and new knowledge in me. It seems so basic, but it’s like show and tell. I’m learning something new about a subject as well as how the sharer views it.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the seventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress. The next post will include the second half of this interview.


ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Rethinking, Re-viewing, and Walking Through a Magical Forest

February 9, 2018

A colleague (Puck Malamud) here in Denver for the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting, which formally begins later today (Friday, February 9, 2018), accurately observed during our brunch yesterday that librarians and other trainer-teacher-learner-doers—what Jonathan Nalder calls “edunauts”—are completely “meta.” We love to look at the thing behind the thing: if we’re immersed in learning, we love exploring how learners learn; if we’re writers, we love exploring the writing process itself; and if we’re thinking about the myriad possible futures for libraries and other critically important learning organizations, we’re going to be talking about, re-viewing, and rethinking the very processes we use to help nurture the future(s) of our dreams.

Sitting with University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science Director R. David Lankes for dinner shortly after I arrived late Wednesday afternoon, I found the meta and rethinking flowing freely very early during a conversation about how we are rethinking the roles of libraries and library staff within the communities we serve. Responding to a question I asked him about his latest projects, he described how he and his faculty colleagues are exploring the very terminology they use to describe the sort of organization they are continuing to nurture at the university. Where we have seen “library “ schools evolve into “information” schools, Dave and his colleagues are taking it an additional step and “placing a stake in the ground” to promote the development of a “school of knowledge”—a place where the focus is not on the library or the information, but on the impact that the university’s graduates will have on the communities they serve throughout their careers through thoughtful application of the knowledge they have gained—and continue to gain as lifelong learners.

It’s a theme Dave has been developing and exploring with colleagues all over the world for the past few years—a natural extension of ideas he proposed in The Atlas of New Librarianship and other books he has written; has developed through presentations and conversations with his peers—what Jonathan would call his fellow edunauts; and will further clarify through a monograph he and University of South Carolina faculty are currently preparing for publication. And the conversation remains open to all of us through writing he has done and presentations he continues to share, including the archived recording of and slide deck (with speaker notes) for “The Opportunities and Obligations of the Knowledge School.” Although the clear and obvious target audience for that wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking “Opportunities” presentation was a group of school librarians, it would be a shame if it didn’t reach the larger audience of edunauts engaged in training-teaching-learning-doing endeavors. All of us contributing to our wonderfully dynamic onsite-online (blended learning) environment through K-12, higher education, vocational schools, museums, libraries, and workplace learning programs need to be looking for and taking concrete actions that produce positive results. That’s what Dave and his colleagues and many others are attempting to do:

The flow of meta and rethinking continued, for me, the following night in what felt like part of one continuing and ever-expanding conversation as I had dinner with Denver-based colleagues/friends/sources of inspiration Pat Wagner and Leif Smith. The conversation, toward the end of the evening, turned to a discussion about the process of rethinking how to conduct interviews for a book in progress. I mentioned to Leif that I was capturing interviewees’ comments though the use of Google Docs for the interviews themselves. (The interviewees have access to a unique document for each interview. I post questions. They respond in real time, which means I see their thoughts taking shape on the page word by word, and I can actually be formulating and entering new questions that help clarify their response while they are still in the middle of crafting their answers. The completed document, after light editing for style and typographic errors, becomes the accurate transcript from which I draw material for inclusion in the book.) This process produces richly evocative passages in each interviewee’s own voice—often conversational, but also refined in-the-moment through that typed-chat format—and obviously contains more content than I’ll ever be able to use in the book (Change the World Using Social Media). So I have been taking some of the more focused interviews and running them, in their entirety, as separate articles on my blog along with excerpts from the manuscript-in-progress as a way of obtaining early peer review that will help shape the final content.

Leif, fascinated by what was for him a new approach to interviewing, provided one of those amazing observations that just spring full-blown from him as if poetic phrasing and inspiring thought grows on the trees in his head: “A book is like the footprints of a creature that has walked through a magical forest, and if you follow those footprints, something like the spirit of the forest enters into you. That’s what happens if the book is really good.

I later joked with friends who often gather for evening coffee and dessert at the end of the day at conferences, that I never did get around to ordering dessert after that dinner with Pat and Leif. But, I added, that lovely passage really wasn’t, after all, dessert; it was a second main course, expertly prepared by one of the great thought-chefs in my life, and a reminder that our experiences at conferences along the lines of ALA’s Midwinter Meeting extend far beyond the walls of the rooms where the formal presentations and discussions are occurring.

Changing the World Through Twitter

February 5, 2018

If you want to viscerally understand the power of Twitter, think of the global impact two small words (“Me too”) and their variations in languages other than English have had. Capturing an enormous emotionally nuanced message (we all know someone affected by sexual harassment and/or assault, so what are we going to do about it?), those two words have been repeated countless times to inspire positive action by men and women using Twitter and other social media platforms after actress Alyssa Milano used them in a tweet on October 15, 2017: “Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.’”

Milano quickly achieved her goal of increasing awareness regarding sexual harassment and assault: the hashtag is drawing attention to the often dramatically different reactions people have to the allegations and reality of sexual harassment at local, regional, national, and international levels; I was among those made even more painfully aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault than we already were; and it has drawn me—and many friends, acquaintances, and colleagues—into efforts to shine a spotlight on it and combat it at whatever level we can—via social media, through face-to-face conversations, and through support for actions that can decrease the presence of harassment and assault whenever we see opportunities to do so.

Let’s be clear about the role Twitter and other social media platforms played in what has, through the use of the #MeToo hashtag, become another highly visible and extended global conversation (and sometimes bitter argument) about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The conversation did not start with the breaking of a significant news story on Twitter, nor did the hashtag #MeToo become a widely-recognized unifying call to action the same day it was created. (The hashtag was first used by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006.) Stories about sexual harassment and abuse in a variety of settings including workplaces, schools and universities, and religious organizations have been published and discussed for several decades by those who accept the veracity of the allegations and want to make positive changes as well as by those who deny the allegations and object to what they see as exaggerations or outright falsehoods. Attitudes and disagreements about sexual harassment and sexual abuse were clearly on display during the 2106 presidential campaign in the United States when a recording capturing Donald Trump boasting, in 2005, of his ability to harass and assault women were widely disseminated through traditional and social media outlets.

The #MeToo conversation expanded rapidly after articles published in The New York Times (October 5, 2017) and The New Yorker (October 10, 2017) documented gut-wrenching allegations that Miramax entertainment company and The Weinstein Company co-founder Harvey Weinstein had engaged in sexual harassment and sexual abuse involving dozens of women in the film industry for at least two decades. Reading the first lengthy and well-documented story in The New York Times that October morning left me disgusted and heart-sick; I found it difficult to even finish reading the lengthy article as I thought about this latest set of allegations showing how someone in a position of power could take advantage of people perceived to have less—or no—voice than those who were making their lives miserable.

Absorbing the numerous follow-up reports about Weinstein and many others became even more emotionally challenging when women—lots of women, far beyond the boundaries of the entertainment industry scandals documented in The New York Times and The New Yorker—began using #MeToo to acknowledge themselves as recipients of unwanted sexual attention by friends, acquaintances, employers, workplace colleagues, or complete strangers. I was absolutely stunned by the large number of women I knew who eloquently joined the conversation through short #MeToo posts. And that’s one of the many ways in which the power of Twitter and other social media tools becomes apparent: what at one time would have been stories about someone else continually become stories about those I know and love and care for—because Twitter and other social media platforms provide a way for voices that might otherwise not have been heard to be heard in ways that inspire people to work together to actively promote the changes they want to see to create the world of their dreams. What might at one time have been stories told within small, isolated groups of people or discussed in local communities became stories shared globally—and very quickly.

“The #MeToo movement is an obvious, but powerful, one [an example of Twitter used to effectively promote social change],” Samantha Becker, the independent consultant and President of SAB Creative & Consulting, observes. “Suddenly, people who were scared to share something deeply personal were empowered to tell their stories because other people were doing it. I don’t think that movement could have spread as rapidly on any other platform because of [the] continuous-conversation factor. There’s Snapchat, Instagram, and new social platforms emerging all the time, but Twitter has remained loyal to the idea of words. And in spite of the growth of videos and infographics, etc. Words. Are. Still. Powerful currency.”

Shining a social media spotlight on those situations you want to change is often seen as positive even in the worst of situations; it is, therefore, well worth noting that the same shining spotlight, used with less-than-honorable intentions, can cause tremendous grief for those unfairly at the center of that spotlight—a theme I will explore fully in a later chapter of Change the World. Using Twitter and other social media platforms carries tremendous responsibility—a responsibility that often is inadvertently or intentionally overlooked by users. As you consider incorporating—or further incorporating—Twitter into your social media toolkit, you would do well to follow advice I frequently give: think before you post. If you are in doubt as to whether your tweet meets the highest, most positive ethical standards to which you subscribe, don’t post. Tweets and other posts can wait; once they are out there, they are impossible to undo.

There is obviously plenty to be done with Twitter to positively change your world; it begins with using it to give voice to those—you and many others—whose voices are not often enough clearly heard. There are plenty of examples, from some of the hashtags (e.g., #BlackLivesMatter, #DACA, #Dreamers, #Ferguson, #LoveWins, #MAGA/MakeAmericaGreatAgain, #OccupyWallStreet, and #ParisAccord) I mentioned in a previous post, of the impact a well-designed and well-used hashtag can have. Whether you agree or disagree with the goals implicit in the movements represented by those hashtags, you can easily recognize that their effective use is part of contemporary social and political discourse—a resource not to be ignored by anyone involved in activism.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the sixth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

Changing the World With Cayden Mak (Part 2 of 2)

January 23, 2018

This is the second of a two-part interview conducted with Cayden Mak, Executive Director of 18 Million Rising, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

Broadcast vs. engagement: what would you suggest to those who still see social media as a broadcast medium rather than as a way to engage others in reaching shared goals?

Cayden Mak, 18 Million Rising

The answer to this one is in some ways similar to the one above [at the end of part one of this interview]—there’s a thing about moving your social at the pace of ordinary people. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things you can do to run a tight ship, but at its core you need to be approachable and responsive to the people who are excited about the work you’re doing. Knowing how to route inquiries, for instance, is really important. And making sure responses to those inquiries have a real human touch makes a difference.

Early on, we also adopted a policy where staff would respond to questions and critiques on our Facebook page as themselves. This was easier five years ago before Gamergate and the rise of alt-right trolling, but it really put a human face to the ideas we were sharing and fostered a culture of inquiry on our page. Which you don’t see a lot—and I think people were pleasantly surprised to get a response to their questions from a real human being, not a brand or whatever.

We’re trying to figure out other ways to do this, because I think people’s expectations are constantly changing.

In terms of figuring out new ways to approach what you’re doing on social media: any innovations you’re exploring that you’re particularly excited about?

Well, for one thing we know that young folks are leaving Facebook in droves, so trying to follow them where they’re going is going to be an imminent challenge. We aren’t ready to leave Facebook behind, because its network effects are real and powerful.

Another challenge that has emerged is what a toxic swamp Twitter has become. I personally have had a Twitter account for nearly a decade and I used to actually make friends and stuff on there—now it’s very professionalized, partially because it’s so filled with awful trolls, Nazis, and misogynists. Twitter continues to be a dominant platform for real-time conversation and breaking news, so again, it’s hard to leave it behind.

We’re trying to think of ways to reach people that are a little more in our control, as well. I’m looking forward to doing a pilot of a podcast next year that will be an advice podcast (but not necessarily a personal advice podcast. We’re working on the concept, anyway). It came from the experience of having members ask us to go into more detail about our reasoning on campaigns, and realizing that we need an outlet for that. Again, I think its tone is going to be very personal—like talking to a friend about their political beliefs rather than talking to [This American Life Host/Producer] Ira Glass about his political beliefs. I also want it to be about how to navigate the social challenges of being a person who is involved in social movements for the long term—things like when the work interferes with a friendship, how to care for yourself to avoid burnout, how to preserve a collective memory of a moment in movement history—that kind of thing.

That raises a question I was already going to ask: what emotional toll does all of this take on you and your staff?

Oh, man; it’s hard. It’s super-exhausting to be in a news moment. And when your staff is predominantly people who are personally targeted by the state and by trolls, it’s really hard to keep an even keel. We have a section in our employee handbook about digital and operational security that includes what to do in a crisis—with a big emphasis on allowing people time to walk away. We talk really openly about the cost of this work with each other. I really recommend the book Trauma Stewardship to anybody doing political or movement work on social media—it’s all about how secondary trauma and witnessing trauma can be triggering and impacts your own internal ecosystem, and how to manage that when we are in caring professions, and I think organizing is a caring profession. It’s been very helpful to a lot of our team who are resistant to the idea that they should care for themselves while they do this work.

The past five years have been really rough in terms of the rise of targeted harassment on social media. I really came up in the gaming community and while I never was super close to the epicenter of Gamergate, I think it had a really chilling effect on what a lot of people are willing to be candid about online. Knowing what folks like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian went through—and continue to go through because they have the gall to be outspoken women—is a reminder of how critical it is to keep showing up online.

Gamergate was also a rehearsal for the so-called alt-right trolling we saw during the 2016 election cycle. Targeting Muslims, trans women, undocumented people—a lot of the darlings of the new reactionary right have taken the Gamergate playbook and started to use legit-seeming media and public appearances to do that kind of thing. I worry all the time about the safety of my staff, and we take digital security very seriously. My nightmare as an executive director would be having one of my team members doxed. But again, I think that this points to why I think online organizing is no different than offline organizing—we’re building trust together so we can take risks. And it’s easy to understate the risk you take speaking out online these days. There are often very real material consequences to this stuff.

Whose use of social media for social change do you admire?

I really love the work that Mijente is doing—especially because their online presence is backed up with in-person organizing, especially in the borderlands. They are sassy, thoughtful, earnest, and fun. ( They also have a deep analysis of social issues that they are not shy about sharing.

Some of the individuals I think are doing a great job are Linda Sarsour,

Any resources (e.g., books, podcasts, websites) you would highly recommend to anyone interested in using social media to foster movement-building?

I’ve found the research that Upworthy shared a couple years ago to actually be really helpful in thinking about how to approach the nuts and bolts. The annoying “write 25 headlines” thing they do is actually very effective—it gets the ideas out there and generates conversation in a team about what makes good copy and why.

For digital security stuff, I highly recommend the work of Equality Labs—very oriented towards social movements and very practical.

I also really encourage people who do this work to dig a little deeper and start building an analysis of the attention economy. Some people doing great research on this are the folks at Data & Society, who work on current issues and publish white papers regularly.

In terms of books, I actually think learning about the history of the internet and the ideology that underlies design to be very valuable. Reading theorists ranging from Yochai Benkler to Theodor Adorno have been really useful in developing an understanding and an analysis—I believe that the tools we use are political and being able to critique them thoughtfully helps figure out how to use the tools in ways that are not oppressive.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the fifth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

Changing the World With Cayden Mak (Part 1 of 2)

January 22, 2018

This is the first of a two-part interview conducted with Cayden Mak, Executive Director of 18 Million Rising, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

In the next two minutes, type in any words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the term “social media.” Don’t try to overthink it, and don’t try to filter. We’re just trying to get some vocabulary on the table and see where it takes us in our overall conversation today.

Cayden Mak, 18 Million Rising

A lot of my thinking about social media is informed by the way I see it influencing the economy—a lot of the big social media companies are these firms that started with a vague idea that they wanted to build something to connect people, and as they struggle to figure out how to make money, their technology becomes more and more coercive. I think that’s a big challenge because they do have some value and have been helpful in a variety of contexts—like bringing social movements from different corners of society into the attention of “the mainstream” —but they’re building this hyper-surveilled social space that is also completely enclosed. it feels like there’s no such thing as the commons anymore, and that’s partially because social media has become the biggest “third space” for most young people. I think it’s a problem also because they have taken up so much bandwidth (literally and figuratively) that they have become the whole Internet for some people. I think that’s scary, especially in light of our current debate about net neutrality—we’re stuck on the ISP level and need to also talk about the platform/gateway/software level.

Social media is powerful because of its network effects, but I worry about monopolization, or even just dependence on a corporate platform to communicate as an individual or small group online.

In the next two minutes, type in any words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the term “social change.” Don’t try to overthink it, and don’t try to filter. We’re just trying to get some vocabulary on the table and see where it takes us in our overall conversation today.

I don’t necessarily ascribe the term “social change” to my work. It feels a little flat, and lacks a little detail. I assume most people use the term “social change” to talk about ostensibly progressive policy changes, or popular opinion changes, but one of the things I think it lacks is the how. Especially working in technology, you see a lot of people use it to mean a lot of different things.

To me, it seems like kind of a catch-all, and as a result, I like to talk more about movement-building. I think that social change can include a lot of things beyond that—such as policy changes at any level of government, or things like representations of different social groups in popular media. What it doesn’t necessarily point at that I think is really important is a people-powered model of change. It seems to me that one of the places I get stuck on the term is that I often see leaders use it to wave away concerns that they aren’t taking leadership from the grassroots, which is, of course, really hard; I guess the term just feels super general to me and doesn’t necessarily speak to the tactics, strategies, or values that drive and create the change.

You have an incredible breadth of experience listed on your [] About page. Let’s take any aspect of that description and run with your own thoughts on how one important aspect of your experience reflects the ways in which social media promote what you’re trying to achieve.

I think a good place to start is when we started 18MR five years ago. There are a lot of organizations in the field of “online organizing” or whatever you want to call it, and we saw that there were some models available to us. What we decided right off the bat is that we didn’t want to make any assumptions about who our constituency was, and what they need out of an organization like ours. I think that if you talk to a lot of the people who founded sister organizations—like Color of Change—[you will find] they were really thinking along these lines, too. The majority of preexisting online organizing groups had lists that are (and often continue to be) overwhelmingly white and middle-aged. We were particularly interested in building an organization that is driven by the needs and interests of young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and since there was no good information out there about what this group of people did or liked online, we had to kind of make it up as we went along.

I started out managing our social media as a part-time contractor, and I had been doing strategic communications (although I wouldn’t necessarily call it that then) for this New York State student movement group that I helped found, New York Students Rising. With that group, since there were basically no expectations (read: funders), we were able to be incredibly incisive and kind of push the envelope in our online communications, which was an amazing environment to learn in. One of the lessons that taught me was that people, especially young people who have a sense of their own marginalization in our society, are really hungry for outlets that speak their language. This was really before Buzzfeed, Mic, and other outlets like that got big.

So, I took a lot of that ethic to 18MR. I think it’s not a coincidence that our staff still tends to be highly educated—not just in a book/academic way—but many of them, past and present, have been schooled so to speak in the history of social movements and stuff like that. That kind of expertise allows us to speak from a very genuine place—I think the voice an­­d the tone that we built was intentionally comradely in that way because we share a set of cultural references, but we’re interested in bringing more people on board with those cultural references. I think it’s been a careful effort to ensure that we both demonstrate our expertise while making that accessible to people.

The thing that this process taught me is the importance of trust. With other organizing formations I was a part of at the time, we were building trust in order to do high-stakes things like shutting down New York State Assembly meetings and risking arrest in order to highlight hypocrisy in the university system. Online, there isn’t necessarily a sense that there are high-risk actions to take. However, I think online organizers often do themselves a disservice when they emphasize that their tools and platforms make social action “easy” or “simple.” Because the whole point of organizing, to me, whether it’s online or off, is to build trust among a group of people in order for them to take calculated risks towards a goal.

That’s important because I think that’s something that we can and should build online. Especially with the rise of more many-to-many social media tools. I really don’t think about our social media pages as tools for broadcasting our work—they’re first and foremost places we go to listen to what our members think about the work we’re doing. Building the audience we have on social media platforms has been challenging because of that—we aren’t going to crack the code of virality and also get the kind of deep organizing conversations that we want to get at the same time, or with the same content. So, balancing on that knife’s blade is really important—you need the more viral content to get your work in front of new people, but you need the deep, genuine, well-thought-out stuff to build that trust and that relationship with people, so that then you can go and ask them to join you in taking action on things.

Let’s go down two roads of what you just wrote (and I’ll leave space beneath each for your comments):

Trust and engagement are clearly essential in movement-building online. Care to offer tips to readers of this book?

There are a couple tips and a couple challenges I can offer. I definitely don’t think I have all the answers, and since platforms are constantly changing the terms of engagement, these are as general as I can make them.

First, this is somewhere [that] building a style guide is really important. We have a style guide that talks not just about aesthetics and design choices but also about who we are as an organization. It talks about our values and where we see ourselves in the grander scheme of people-of-color led social movements. And it also talks about affect—how people should feel when they interact with us online. Between those three things, we have a pretty good road map for everything from how to write copy for sharing our campaigns on Facebook to how to live-tweet the Oscars.

The second tip is to not try to be someone you’re not. It sounds really basic but it’s actually very hard, because in some ways the social media popularity contest is about performing an identity on the internet. But finding ways to genuinely be who you are while connecting with people is critical.

Now, for some sticky problems:

One sticky problem is that the metrics that outsiders use to measure our success are the same measures that the powerhouses of the attention economy use to measure their success. So, things like reach, post engagements, stuff like that. I think the struggle here is that we can get really caught up in these sort of things that seem to show how wide our reach is—but they can’t and don’t measure how deep our connections are. I haven’t yet figured out what good alternative metrics look like, but I do know that sometimes a measure of trust is how many people come to you with their problems. This sounds challenging (and it is, because you always have limited resources) but to me having people approach you on social media and say, “This thing is messed up in my community, how can you help me?” is a very powerful measure of that trust.

The other big sticky problem is that the very personal style that we developed can be very draining on your social team (or you, if you’re a one-person show). Popularity online can often turn into problematic cult of personality type dynamics, and those don’t really help anybody in the long run. One thing I’ve found to help here, and again I don’t think this is the only approach, is to have a system that you use to deal with times when you screw up. Being transparent about culpability when mistakes are made is really rare and very refreshing for online audiences—they respond well to times when we have, for instance, made a misstep in sharing content that is actually harmful in a way that we didn’t realize. But apologizing, taking responsibility, and then never doing it again (the hard part!) is a good reminder to both you and your constituency that you’re just people, doing your best. And it’s often an opportunity for a good conversation and deep political education, which is hard because of the pace of social.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the fourth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress. The next post will include the second half of this interview.

%d bloggers like this: