Online organizing used to be just about email as a support tool for real face to face organizing. To a certain extent this will continue to be the case. But during the last decade the tech buzz has been pushing what’s known as Web 2.0 or social networking. There has been a blinding array of social networking platforms all of which focus on some new tool that exploits some new online resource. Since when have you not seen a Youtube video lately? But many people have more than a few reasons to be uncomfortable about the the online experience, thus continue to stick with email and browser. There are many real reasons for this, so this isn’t an attempt to persuade you to do something you are not uncomfortable with. It is however, about why fewer people are doing email and have moved especially into Facebook.
There has been a noticeable drop off in the amount of activity on email lists lately. Some of this has to do with burnout. Fukushima has been more than a bit exhausting, if not even more so at the present, because many activists are trying to juggle not one but two or more issues at the same time. By this, I mean, keeping an eye on what’s happening around Fukushima, but at the same time while also being active with local organizing that has been spurred on by the Japanese crisis.
However, this doesn’t account for why a lot of the mailings lists are seeing fairly large reductions in use. Probably the biggest change has been the dramatic increase in active use of Facebook.
Today there are at least a half dozen major Facebook sites with a withering volume of activity.
For example, and this is by no means even a partial list of all the Facebook groups that are active:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/Fukushima.informations/ 2,342 members
https://www.facebook.com/groups/Fukushimamiyagiiwate/ 1,612 members
https://www.facebook.com/groups/dianuke/ 1,401 members
https://www.facebook.com/groups/113622485391538/ (C.A.N.) 669 members
And there are many more Facebook sites that are active as well, that aren’t necessarily about just getting the general public to jump into some kind of news horserace.
There is now more information being posted on just one of these sites in a single day that may happen in an entire week on the largest email lists. A lot of is very high quality.
I’ve yet to even mention Twitter and its role in what happened in Egypt. What makes twitter so important? Well first off its where young folks hang out, but what is does do is its capacity to broadcast one to many or many to many. Something that Facebook isn’t able to do. The problem is that the anti-nuclear movement hasn’t grasped this or how it could be used to create a organized network all by the use of a single keyword.
Many people now completely bypass email altogether and rely on texting which can be done via twitter on their phones. Older folks who are uncomfortable with all this tech stuff have gotten left behind, not getting the potential. What happens when movement leaders who are mostly older folks don’t grasp this? In many ways its been a certain reason why we’ve had trouble getting younger folks involved simply because there is a huge obstacle (learning curves etc.) when its pretty much 2nd nature to younger folks at this point. Of course we’ve watched what is a very complex issue be managed out of the public eye, not to mention there are now dozens of other issues competing for our limit human energy.
If you have a hardly ever used Facebook account, I urge you to go check out the above groups and see what the buzz is for yourself. I also urge you to spend a few minutes to set up a twitter account, and then on the search line type the following — #fukushima — There are now thousands of people using this tag to share news about fukushima all over the world. We need to understand that twitter has the potential of launching the anti-nuclear movement just as the “Egypt” keyword helped bring that country into the streets in a matter of days. If we are not ready or have failed to start using this incredible tool then we may miss a magic moment. #fukushima has launched… There are now attempts to launch a network in california using >> #nukefreecal <<
What is going on? Well, first and foremost, most people are highly social and are comfortable being in a place where there is a lot of other people. Well, maybe not everybody. But most of us. This is definitely what has happened with the largest facebook sites. In fact, for someone who is already very active, the above groups may appear to be a waste of time, simply because one of the biggest problems on the bigger groups has been people posting what is called “news spam”. One of the major enticements to build Facebook are the social bookmarking buttons that you see everywhere on news articles, blogs etc. By clicking on the FB button, with just a few more steps you can then send that article to your favorite FB group. What results can be literally 50 or more posts a day all of which consist of articles or videos that somebody thinks may be appropriate to that group. The big groups are now well beyond this level. You can also post documents to the library as well as have conversations, which has gotten quite extensive for the larger. In the case of the C.A.N site, it is currently being used to coordinate actions all over the US for Oct 1st.
People are living with the downside of Facebook, like information overload. Why? because in just a short time folks have realized that staying on target makes for a rubust community. What’s happening right now on Facebook is clearly an example that there is a huge number of people that either don’t have a “local group” that they can plug into but want to be part of something, more even more important, people all over the world are all having the same experience of media censorship and the need to globalize the battle over nuclear issues. There are now people participating from many countries, with France being one of the largest. There’s Germany sites as well, but translation between languages hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.
Furthermore, there is now a readily available freeware system than can nearly duplicate what Facebook does, and do it with far more sophistication. Its just a matter of time before. If your group has a tech consultant or you are in touch with the urgent issue of how we could start to build a global online community then please read this or send it to your tech person to read this last paragraph. The most popular online blogging package in the world is WordPress. In the last year WordPress has been going through a lot of changes including major security upgrades. However, the biggest change has been with their new version of WordPress MU when combined with an add-on known as BuddyPress.
WordPress MU is a free blogging platform that allows the administrator to manage many blogs together. This is essentially what Facebook is. An online platform where each individual gets an easy to use home blog that can then interact with group blogs. Its organized so you can make contact with other people, or with groups, like the one mentioned above. What makes Facebook attractive is that its easy to use and its user base is massive. What makes FB a real downer is that when a group gets popular, or you have too many friends, it pretty much becomes a joke with so much traffic passing through that its hard to keep good content or discussions from quickly getting lost down the single stream of new posts.
What makes WP/Buddypress different? Well, for one, it has the capacity to not just personal pages, and groups, but it can also have forums, and wiki’s all managed and designed by us rather than by an entity that doesn’t give a damn about anything other than selling us to corporate advertisers. That’s where the new WP/system shines. Is it the end-all be all? No way. But the big benefit is just like WP, it has a huge userbase of technical programmers which means that its rapidly evolving with what people are wanting. How long will people put up with the horrible structure of Facebook? Maybe not long. If a group of tech supporters can’t get together and get a working option together that captures this moment, we might not have another chance…
Here’s an example of a WP/MU/Buddypress site. Note the standard icons that come with BP suck, as can be seen, but once people personalize their avatars, it will start to look a lot like FB…
There is no way that online organizing will ever supplant face to face work. But it is clear that online organizing tools are starting to not just catch on, but actually enhance and help people see just what’s going on and interact with a newly vitalized community that not long ago was split up and not talking to each other!