Organizing with Social Media

Social Media

            New Orleans      Social media is ubiquitous.  So much so that we often don’t know what part of it is for good or evil.  This is an ever-present question for organizers.  Talking to a researcher recently, she wondered what to make of some who argue that social media and digital organizing should be the dominant methodology in contemporary organizing.  It’s an interesting question, but, if true, would be a disturbing wrong turn in the work.  Social media is a superb communications tool, and as such, has demonstrated its usefulness in getting the word out and mobilizing people in some situations.  All of that is different from whether it is a good tool in building real peoples’ mass-based organizations.  Certainly, ACORN uses social media in a number of ways from contact work to setting up and reminding people of meetings and even in signing up members occasionally, yet it is a weak link compared to direct visits and contacts in actually organizing people.

Depending on the constituency being organized, thinking more deeply about how to use social media could be more important in coming years.  Recently, there was a column in the Times that looked at the variable social media usage rates by race and ethnicity.  Focusing on youth, the columnist was concerned about its negative impacts that might lead to depression, anxiety, and alienation, as well as increased gaps in reading.  I’m sure these are valid concerns, but I drew some different conclusions when it comes to building organizations.

Pamela Paul raised these concerns, based on a recent study…

According to a new study by Pew, Black and Hispanic teenagers ages 13 to 17 spend far more time on most social media apps than their white peers. One-third of Hispanic teenagers, for example, say they are “almost constantly” on TikTok, compared with one-fifth of Black teenagers and one-tenth of white teenagers. Higher percentages of Hispanic (27 percent) and Black teenagers (23 percent) are almost constantly on YouTube compared with white teenagers (9 percent); the same trend is true for Instagram.  Overall, 55 percent of Hispanic teenagers and 54 percent of Black teenagers say they are online almost constantly, compared with 38 percent of white teenagers; Black and Hispanic kids ages 8 to 12, another study found, also use social media more than their white counterparts.

None of this is a huge surprise.  WhatsApp for example is the go-to tool for all of our organizers and members to communicate regularly in Africa, Latin America, and India.  I’ve already had one call on the platform today.  It’s also interesting to me, given the diverse racial and ethnic membership of ACORN.  It argues for more thought about how to use social media within these demographics to plant the seeds for future organizing work.  It also makes me wonder whether what is popular among the young might also be spreading to parents and adults in the same way Facebook evolved?  If so, ironically, that might improve our access in organizing.  Part of this situation has to do with the persistence of the digital divide, making smartphones the access portal to the internet with social media hitching a ride to the problem, but that’s a campaign we are still not winning yet.

I’m not sure how to make all of this happen, but it seems like an opportunity that we need to seize.