Facebook Could be a Powerful Organizing Recruitment Tool, If We Could Afford

New Orleans   There was an intriguing and in some ways unsettling piece in the New York Times recently about the growing power of Facebook and friends called “The Ads That Know Everything” by Burt Helm. The title of the piece in the online version lowered the “fright” index by calling it “How Facebook’s Oracular Algorithm Determines the Fate of Start-Ups.” No matter how they cleaned it up, trust me, it’s both compelling and scary.

True enough, the story was centered around a couple of buddies who ended up taking a deep dive into Facebook to create a multi-million dollar business. The heart of the piece was about the power of the Facebook algorithm matched to the vast billions of people on its platform and its ability to match smaller and smaller subsets of like-minded people or characteristics to sell stuff. Much the same could be said for Google’s work, but a social network is a social network, and one that sells stuff between friends and followers is crack to businesses.

No news there, right? But, as the Russians, hate groups, the women’s march, and #MeToo have all shown, it is also a way to combine people in affinity groups, and as sales are to businesses, recruitment of new members or activists is to mobilizations and organizations. By the time I read the piece my partner, a veteran community organizer, had pockmarked the article with scores of underlined passages and notes.

No news there either, right? Many leads in opening new countries for ACORN International have begun when I’ve received a random Facebook message over the transom of my own page. Our British affiliate has excelled in using Facebook’s public and private groups to recruit new members, especially in the Bristol area where they immediately visit, and usually sign up, any new “likes” their site.

The interesting takeaway from the Times article was how quickly one could scale the organizing if an organization had the resources to do similar experiments with the recruitment pitches and was all over it like “white on rice.” In fact, I’m sure there are large nonprofits, especially among the deeper pocketed groups like Planned Parenthood or some of the enviros that have digital organizers who use similar strategies to recruit donors or perhaps members as well. If there were unions willing to recruit general membership in the United States like there are in some cases in the United Kingdom, they could still probably finance the ad buys and constant feeding capacity to identify and recruit new members. Political campaigns like those run by Sanders, Trump, and Clinton probably were all over this technology. I don’t know for a fact that any of them are doing so, but they certainly have the opportunity following the same trail-and-error methodology to build a mass base of support.

There’s a huge opportunity here to build a mass organization if one coupled social networking recruitment with a real program and direct action involvement to build power. It was hard to escape the conclusion as I read the article that it could be done, and even done globally, but it would take real vision and patience combined with very deep pockets ready to feed Facebook and its friends.

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Please enjoy Khruangbin’s Maria Tambien.

& All That We Are by Haneen.

Thanks to KABF.

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Looking at the Indivisible Guide for Progressive Tea Party

from the Indivisible Guide Facebook page

New Orleans   Some groups are forming in Congressional Districts as part of the resistance to President Trump’s agenda and are deliberately mimicking the Tea Party’s earlier playbook when they were opposing any and all Obama. Several groups are using Indivisible in their names having been inspired by the Indivisible Guide, which is described as having been written by former Congressional staffers. The Guide is a straightforward how-to piece on going after members of Congress, referred to throughout as MOC’s.

The authors are somewhat unlikely protestors. The names identified by their Twitter handles, which seems so “Age of Trump” it almost made me pause, call themselves the Indivisible Team. They include a 40-year veteran lawyer with his name on a corporate law firm in New York, a public interest lawyer based in San Francisco, an Arlington, Virginia DC beltway woman who seems to be working with and perhaps formerly worked for Tom Perriello, a one term Democratic Congressman who has announced as a candidate for Governor of Virginia, and was a cofounder of the online petitioning group, Avaaz, and finally a health and immigration policy analyst with experience with the National Immigration Law Center. In fact they probably are not really protestors so much as advocates with deep experience as lobbyists, who see this as a hammer that they have seen frighten the bejesus out of Congressional representatives in the past, and have a identified a moment where people are looking to strike a nail back home.

That said, read as a lobbying guide, rather than an organizing program, the Indivisible Guide has real value. It gets to the nuts and bolts including phone script role plays that are reality based. Their tactical descriptions and discussion of preparations for town hall meetings with the local representatives is about the best any organizer could hope to read if they were planning an action at such an event. Their advice on triggering the press for even small 10-person actions with social media and how to employ such tools in organizing their protests also is accurate and helpful. The short story is that for those of us who read – and write – manuals about organizing models and tools, they did a good job.

At the same time, these are not people looking to create big social change or drain the swamp. They totally believe in this system and how it works. They advise against getting caught up in discussions about policy or programs, saying progressives don’t have a chance. In their view this guide and the call of the moment is all about resistance.

I appreciated their transparency and the value of their guide, but resistance without a plan or program that takes the status quo as certain and bounded rigidly by the election cycle, is a stopgap at best and misses the moment and the opportunity, while risking seeming like nothing more than protest for protest sake. Right now protestors are in it for the win, not just to hear their own voices yell, and they need a guide for that strategy as well, not simply a well assembled how-to tactical manual on grassroots lobbying.

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