Using Your Organizational Skills to Change the World Using Social Media

February 6, 2020

There is much more to social media than simply posting and waiting for results. The best efforts—including many of those highlighted in this series of excerpts from and interviews for Change the World Using Social Media (to be published by Rowman & Littlefield later this year—often combine first-rate communication skills online as well as onsite with tremendous organizational skills and organizational development. #BlackLivesMatter without the Black Lives Matter organization would be a far less influential movement than it is. #ClimateStrike, with the Global Climate Strike organization, combined online meeting place and onsite local chapters throughout the world to continue its work to foster positive responses to the global climate crisis, which is also promoted online through #FridaysForFuture and its online map of onsite events. #DACA takes on a real-world physical presence, through the support of more than 1,400 organizations and individuals, in its efforts to support undocumented immigrants who want to continue living in the United States. #MarchForOurLives benefitted and continues to benefit from the deft combination of a broad-based organization designed to reduce gun violence and online posts from organizers and supporters. #MeToo would be much the poorer if it didn’t have the organizational prowess the local and national organizations providing services to survivors of sexual violence and of Tarana Burke’s Just Be Inc., created to support young women of color “with the range of issues teen and pre-teen girls are faced with daily” more than a decade before her #MeToo hashtag went viral. #WomensMarch, with its broad-based network of trainings, programs and events, drives the movement to “harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” its website suggests.

The connections between the stories of March for Our Lives and Fridays for Future provide particularly noteworthy examples of how quick, consistent attention to the complementary nature of online and onsite (blended) interactions, and onsite-online organizational skills, led to successes for both groups. The process of creating a strong, sustainable March for Our Lives movement and organization, well documented in Dave Cullen’s book Parkland: Birth of a Movement and Lauren and David Hogg’s book #NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line, rose out of the activists’ almost immediate recognition that building a strong organization would be essential to success; they drew upon experienced, knowledgeable supporters to help them after quickly recognizing that they needed to establish a nonprofit foundation to manage the large donations made in support of their efforts. Inspired by March for Our Lives and an earlier protest, in which students stayed away from school to stage a “climate strike” timed to coincide with the opening day of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris, Greta Thunberg began her school strike—an initially solitary effort calling attention to climate change—by standing alone (with a handmade sign in hand) in front of the parliament building in her own country in August 2018. Recognizing that she would need a well-run organization to support her efforts, she established Fridays for Future that month. She continued to combine her onsite efforts with online posts (through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to call attention to her climate strike—an effort that steadily attracted a growing, yet relatively small group of supporters. The moment of transformation in terms of the amount of attention she was drawing to her cause came when that combined onsite-online effort led her to the opportunity to address members of the United Nations late that year, when she was 15 years old: attention through mainstream media outlets as well as through tremendously larger numbers of responses via Twitter (going from a few thousand responses on Twitter before the UN speech to more than 483,000 mentions by August 2019) allowed her make “an unquestionable impact,” and “nowhere is that more apparent than on social media,” Paul Herrera notes in an article for Maven Road.

But it’s not just about attention and reach; it’s also about the concrete results produced through those well-organized, blended efforts. When you look at what March for Our Lives has helped produce, you see changes in legislation at the state and national levels, growing support nationally for positive actions to reduce violence involving the use of guns, and efforts to register and engage new voters in the electoral process. When you look at Climate Strike, you see that the first sixteen months of activities put Thunberg in conversation with world leaders willing to support positive responses to the effects of climate change and “inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history.” Those marches, executed with a scope and efficiency reminiscent of the Women’s March and March for Our Lives efforts, spurred action by students “in 2,233 cities and towns in 128 countries, with demonstrations held from Australia to India, the UK and the US.”

At the heart of all this is community—onsite, online, and at the level of the blended efforts so frequently apparent to you as engage in your own world-changing efforts and as you follow the work of those you admire for their world-changing actions.

Tips designed to create, nurture, and sustain these blended communities include establishing organizational plans—with strong mission, vision, and value statements—that help keep community efforts focused and measurable in terms of achievements vs. goals that remain unreached. They include a commitment to building relationships that allow your colleagues and supporters to see themselves as your partners in creating the change you are proposing to make. They are centered around a commitment and ability to tell your story briefly and engagingly through all means available to you onsite and online—in ways that are personal and invitational rather than coldly factual and distant. They are built upon an understanding that change—small-scale as well as large-scale—is a step-by-step process that requires building upon the successes you achieve and that are not derailed by the inevitable setbacks, opposition, and even harassment you and your colleagues will face. They include a commitment to learning from others—those who support you as well as those who oppose what you are attempting to accomplish—with a well-maintained commitment to empathy so you can understand why others might not be as enamored of what you are attempting to do as you are, and they require a strong commitment to frequently thanking those who support you and doing everything you can to keep those supporters informed, involved, and energized—actions that take you far beyond any mistaken belief that social media is a magic bullet that, once fired, resolves everything you and members of your community are attempting to resolve.   

N.B. — Paul has completed his manuscript for Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the 22nd in a series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Facing Online Harassment While Changing the World

January 29, 2020

When you think about the stories you have heard or read regarding online harassment—including trolling—through social media, you can easily make the mistake of thinking it won’t affect you. You might even unconsciously—as I have occasionally and unexpectedly found myself doing—mistakenly assume that those who are on the receiving end of trolling and other forms of online harassment are only the highly-visible world-changers taking controversial stands (as if that somehow fully explains why they are being harassed).

If you follow social media at all, you know that many people—those affiliated with Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and Me Too, for example—have been subjected to trolling and other forms of harassment that are vicious, tenacious, threatening, and, at times, emotionally overwhelming. It interferes with their ability to continue or complete their work. It leaves them emotionally drained and feeling isolated. And it takes a toll on those around them, including family, friends, co-workers, and employers.

What you might have missed is the fact that plenty of others who are attempting to foster positive change in their communities through what they see as routine, uncontroversial actions have been equally traumatized by those who oppose them or simply take pleasure in provoking strong emotional responses among those they perceive to be weak, appropriate targets to torment. A study released by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) in October 2019 suggests that more than a third of all Americans have “experienced severe online harassment”—which means that you don’t have to look very far to find someone who has had this experience (if it hasn’t already happened to you). And if you are at all confused by what a troll is and what behavior helps you identify a troll, you’ll find Todd Clarke’s list of “5 Signs You’re Dealing With a Troll” helpful in making that identification: “1) They’ll try to make you angry. 2) They act entitled. 3) They exaggerate. 4) They make it persona. 5) They often can’t spell.”

One of the most surprising set of targets I have encountered included several librarians who were simply doing what librarians do: fostering positive change within their communities by responding to the needs of library users and library colleagues through the creation and posting of resources to help them find information they need. (I first heard their stories while attending the panel discussion “Bullying, Trolling, and Doxxing, Oh My! Protecting Our Advocacy and Public Discourse Around Diversity and Social Justice” at the 2018 American Library Association annual conference, in New Orleans.) Two of the librarians had received an American Library Association 2017 Diversity Research Grant for a project to be called “Minority Student Experiences with Racial Microaggressions in the Academic Library”; the study was designed to use “surveys and focus groups to garner further insight into the specific experiences surrounding racial microaggressions directed at racial and ethnic minority students in the context of accessing library spaces and services on campus,” but was abandoned “[b]ecause of the level of harassment” directed at one of the librarians. Another of the librarians had tried to explain to colleagues, through a relatively brief (nine-paragraph) blog posting, what she called “race fatigue”—the “physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro-and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people”—in an effort to make her colleagues aware of the situation and in the hope that something positive would come from recognition and discussion of that situation. A fourth librarian—working in a college library—had published an online document designed to “provide general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to current dialogues” within the college community.

When the reaction of those who wanted to torment each of the librarians began to hit, several of the recipients of trolling and other forms of online harassment were stunned and transformed by what they experienced, they said. They were “doxxed”—their contact and other personal information (e.g., email addresses, home addresses, and home phone numbers) were widely disseminated online—as part of a campaign to not only discredit them but also to interfere with the work they were doing. And, in some ways, it worked. At least one of them asked her employers to remove her contact information from her university’s website—a process that took far longer than expected because no one seemed to be prepared for the trauma that the librarian was experiencing as a result of a weeks-long barrage of threats and hate mail, nor seemed quite sure of how to respond expeditiously to the request. A few of the librarians sought help from a variety of sources, including members of police departments, but found that support was lacking because no actual crimes had been committed by those threatening (rather than actually committing) acts of violence against the librarians and their families.

A fifth librarian (who was originally scheduled to be part of a panel discussion I attended, but ended up telling her story online after she was unable to attend the conference) offered a bit of positive news: her employer was behind her all the way from the time the harassment began.

“Thankfully, and much to my honest surprise, my employer had my back,” she wrote in a piece posted on Medium.

What all of this suggests is that in preparing for that awful moment when—not if—you are on the receiving end of trolling or other forms of online harassment, you need not be or feel as if you are alone; there are steps you can take to lessen the trauma and frustration harassment is designed to provoke; and you can draw upon your community of support to help you through the experience in ways that allow you to continue engaging in positive actions to help change your world.   

N.B. — Paul has completed his manuscript for Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the 21st in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Jeff Merrell (Part 2 of 2)

March 19, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change, 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.

 

Jeff Merrell

In a world where employers encourage employees to be available around the clock via the use of mobile devices, is the old rule of thumb “don’t talk politics at work” even a realistic approach anymore, given that lines between personal and professional activities are being inadvertently erased–through actions rather than by design?

Ah. There’s the $1,000,000,000 question.

Look, for me, it starts and ends with the organizational culture. I would not attempt to have “let’s talk social issues” discussions on a large scale if my company or organization did not do that naturally, in other forms. I am going back to my blog post rant a bit here, but I think some things like #MeToo, news around things like Charlottesville, can inspire some short-term discussions of topics within an organization’s online spaces. Maybe it allows people to—in a tiny way—share something that they’ve wanted to say. I’ve heard examples of this. But, for longer term impact, I think organizations need to think about how they “talk” about these issues routinely, in hybrid ways, where the online conversations are extensions or variations of what happens in other ways.

If your organizational culture isn’t strong enough to handle that, or your organizational philosophy does not incorporate some strong element of social impact, then you are not going to get very far.

It’s. Not. About. Social media.

Thanks. That’s really helping me to clarify something I’ve been exploring through these interviews: the impact that social activism through efforts including #MeToo have in settings far beyond what those involved may have originally thought would occur. I’m finding that few people are looking at the professional social media tools, e.g., LinkedIn, Slack, and Yammer, as means to foster social change. Thoughts on how those might fit in to what you just said in terms of conversations among our professional colleagues onsite as well as online?

Well, let’s start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is about your “brand.” So right there, you are screwed unless you as an individual are seeking to be branded as social activist. But I would suspect—maybe I am wrong—that someone with that mindset would find LinkedIn just not a fit. It’s about people trying to create professional brand in the traditional corporate model.

Slack and Yammer, and similar, allow more co-construction of “space.” A group of social activists, within an organization, could easily start up a Slack community of trusted peers etc., set norms for participation, and maybe have a go of it.

But again, if the organizational culture is not accepting, respecting of that kind of conversation, then it will likely just be some dark secret thread. Where there is hope is when these spaces become places where people might be able to explore difficult topics and the organization is OK with that.

About halfway through the “There is hope in pushing a conversation” section of your “Revisiting: A critical pedagogy for organizational learning?” post, you talk about a “kind of collision between the ‘outside’ social world and internal organizational world…” Have you seen positive change result among those with whom you work as a result of the interactions taking place in the layered communities you mentioned earlier in this conversation?

Let me start over with a couple of examples.

Two of the most powerful “open” discussions we’ve had within our community (so…open to the entire community, but not open to the public) have been about 1) Being a Muslim—visiting student—in the U.S. and 2) the challenges of being a female in tech.

In both cases, these are very strong, female leaders who opened these discussions. And each was spurred by some outside event. Each also said—they would not write what they wrote anywhere else than within the community we created. And each, also, were very savvy social media users—blogging, on Twitter, etc.

And the discussion threads—and related conversations outside of the online space—I found productive for the community as a whole. That was also the general sense of the leaders in this program, and from what I could gather, the community itself,

Positive change coming from it? Not sure I can point to the lives of Muslim students being any “safer” or that women in tech are better off now. But there is a history here that now proves and demonstrates that our [learning] community—MSLOC—can take on these topics and explore them and learn from them.

That sort of takes us into the area of the same blog post that discusses “intentionally subverting the norm” as a way of fostering change. Any additional guidance you would offer readers in terms of the impacts that approach can have within organizations as well as onsite and online communities?

Yes, this is an interesting question. I recognize that there is some “power” at play here in what I am about to write, but I think a key is calling out (in a positive way) when “subverting the norm” happens. So, say I am a community manager or a leader and recognize that some set of voices are challenging our assumptions, but the challenge is productive in some way. For me, a key is just calling that out: Hey, this is great! We may not agree on all of it, but we love the critical thinking. And maybe engage in some true active listening—online or off—that results in some change in practices or routines.

I see those moments in facilitating classes. So, my perspective comes from that. If I am doing my job well, I am recognizing and encouraging multiple voices to be heard and to challenge assumptions.

How can you foster trust and safety in online environments when incivility is rampant?

Within organizations, don’t hire people who are incivil. 🙂

I say that half-jokingly. But it gets to my culture bit. If you bring in people who want to be civil participants, and you create a culture that allows for all voices to be heard and respected, then you’ve got a chance. But if all you are about is brand, making as much profit as possible by taking advantage of employees or customers, and beating the competition by any means possible, you’re hosed.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2020. This is the eleventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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.

[#covfefe]

LOL

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 2020. This is the eighth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress. 


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 2020. This is the sixth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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