Online Actions and Social Change Principles

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Social Change and Social Media

Community Organizing Online

facilitated by Ivan Boothe

What are some principles we can determine from successful social change campaigns using social media?

  • Campaigns that bridge existing divides
  • Should allow discussion
  • Should not inhibit discussion
    • (i.e. how much nuance is lost in online discussion)
  • Create safe spaces
  • Role of memes online
    • how small idea snippets can spread very fast to huge number of ideas
    • brevity makes them both powerful and trivial
  • Power of story-telling
  • Narrative shaping
  • Listen to what people are talking about
  • Timing: connected to external event / advocacy hook
  • Small initial ask, measured frequency
  • Feedback, transparency about action's progress
  • Amplifying people's own stories rather than trying to speak for them
  • Not everyone is online
  • Media kits: offline actions and materials distributed online
  • Go where the people are
  • One campaign, not divided between online and offline
  • Connected to specific, clear action and clear impact
  • Theory of change
  • Tap into existing online and offline networks
  • Faster organizational response to conditions
  • Strong emotion: humor / outrage


  • Unplanned aspects can make things spread faster
    • i.e. opponent reaction can make things spread
    • See "Streisand Effect"
    • Making repression / reaction visible
  • Online organizing forces reevaluation of "what is a win?"
    • small successes amplify aspects of campaign
  • Ladder of Engagement
    • ask people to do small tasks, and then increasingly greater asks and engagement
    • clicktivism can be gateway to broader actions
  • has interesting analysis of the life-cycle of an online campaign
    • offers issue space analysis for other orgs
  • Having institutional infrastructure in place can help when unexpected event catalyzes online campaign
    • Orgs can use their position to amplify them online
    • Orgs don't have to wait, orgs can find events to amplify
  • Theory of power
    • Conventional idea: power is at the top of the pyramid and to depose it, you must do so at the top
    • vs community organizing: power is at the bottom and can topple top though action

Examples of Actions

  • Free Fare Movement in Brazil
    • started with relatively small demonstration 100 or so people in Sao Paulo
    • crushed by ruthless police repression, recorded by cellphones and shared online
    • in a couple weeks 10s of millions people protesting
    • major fare reductions in every metropolitan area in Brazil
    • nearly shut down Federations Cup football match
    • connecting government spending to things not to people
  • Critique: Image of delivery of box of printed Facebook thumbs with "Likes" in Philippines
  • We are the 99% Tumblr
  • MoveOn feedback about success or status of actions and org requests
  • San Francisco eviction defense
    • very moving story from individual, broadcast widely
    • distilled simmering anger at growing gentrification
  • Creating a safe space can become insular.
    • Discussion of messaging disconnected from their target audiences
    • For marginalized communities, social media provide opportunity to reach broader audiences
  • Rainforest Action Network had been working on palm oil for a long time
    • When Girl Scouts connected rainforest destruction to cookie ingredients issue blew up big
  • UC Davis pepper spray
    • students had encircled the police
    • provoked reaction
  • Twitter stories from advocate about how US work on trafficking is having consequences on treatment of sex workers
    • results in journalists contacting advocate