I’ve been trying to come up with a way to describe how I feel about social media experts lending their services to social justice campaigns. I’ve done a fair share of it myself – having done social media development for student media, community media, green organisations and the like, as well as straight up media activism with Indymedia back in the day. What triggered this thought was a comment by Laurel Papworth about the ActionAid blogger campaign that Stilgherrian took part in. The comment – about feeling a sense of ownership about the project – really rubbed me the wrong way. As I commented on the blog:
I’m quite keen to blog about this, but frankly, I’m more interested in hearing the voices of the Tanzanian bloggers. The last thing the blogosphere needs is more middle-class white westerners drowning out other people’s voices.
Having done my fair share of new media development for underprivileged groups – Indigenous, refugees, homeless and activists – generating visibility for these projects can be hard. But the last thing they need is social media bloggers guilting other social media people into promoting the project. If I had come across this project being promoted on the blog of a PR person I would have been uninterested, suspicious even. Because I *do* know Stil, I was willing to listen.
‘Getting behind’ something can mean being quiet and allowing other to speak up. And insisting that those who ‘want a sense of ownership’ understand the problematic implications of that.
But that doesn’t really get at the central point that I was thinking of. However, this post by Dave Fleet really crystalised it for me.
Think about the most high-profile proponents of social media. The people you think of likely have large followings and significant engagement with their work. Now, ask yourself – does that mean they have built a community around themselves ? Or are they just talented self-promoters who know how to build fans?
Now, I’m not saying that Laurel is that person. But for social media people working in development and social justice, the role of the social media person is that of facilitator, of trainer, of producer. Stilgherrian – despite being a loud, opinionated blogger (for which I love the guy!) – knows that the point of the project is to give (a space for and to facilitate the amplification of) a voice to others.
And ultimately, sometimes the best outcome of a social media project is in the people who take part, not the artifacts of the project. I ran a new media newsroom for a CBF funded project a few years ago. The site no longer exists, and the content that was produced was fairly limited. But of the people who took part, some are now studying journalism at university, some are running the new media operations at their community station and another is an editor at the ABC. Social justice isn’t a flashy, quick results project. Sometimes it’s a small impact, a minor inspiration in a person that has an impact on their life.
Thinking about this has really helped me decide how to describe what I do. I’m not a social media expert – despite having spent quite a few years as a researcher (PhD and industry) and developer. I’m not a guru. I’m certainly not an evangelist. (Now there’s a rant for another day!)
No, I’m a social media producer. My voice – except occasionally in the role of practitioner – is not important. If you walk away from a project that I’ve worked on with my voice in your ears, I’ve failed.
I’d encourage you to pop over to the Action Aid blog and nominate someone for the next ActionAid blogger outreach person. I think NomadiqueMC gets it.