Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

Collective for A Cause

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Last Wednesday, October 20, was declared Spirit Day as part of National Bullying Prevention Month and National Domestic Violence Month. People across the U.S. and Canada wore purple to raise awareness not only for bullying and domestic violence, but also in honor of the recent suicides of LGBTQ youth.

The movement to start Spirit Day was dreamed up in Canada by a girl, Brittany McMillian, with a Tumblr page. She then created a Facebook page with over 71,000 members. Even I joined this movement, wearing purple and, along with my internet friends, changed my various social media avatars a matching shade.

In an effort to create awareness and tap into the social media community, MTV has just launched “A Thin Line” an interactive visualization tool with corresponding app to stop cyber bullying. Upon visiting the site, the user is given a short survey to complete with questions regarding the posting of nude photographs, online privacy, and text stalking, all posed in youth-appropriate vernacular. When the survey is completed the user sees a map of the U.S. with lines indicating other participants who are fighting against digital bullying.  There is also the promise of winning a free trip to the MTV Video Music awards for completing the survey.

MTV’s motive behind this site is to bring in a collective awareness of a National issue, a collective intelligence if you will.  GLAAD and Facebook have also joined forces to spotlight bullying, and Youtube has a channel It Gets Better of stories of pro – LGBTQ supporters and public figures sharing messages of hope. The channel has received almost 2 million views and has created a large amount of political and entertainment buzz, even President Obama submitted a video.

One might be suspect of large corporations joining forces with individuals to support this cause, considering their motives for lucrative sponsorship deals and marketing and promotion, but information and and awareness is still being distributed and in most cases larger corporations (money and connections) help distribute these messages to a wider audience quicker and more efficiently.

Spirit Day is a great example of grassroots, network efforts: what started with a tumblr post turned into a movement which made people stop, consider, and act on an important issue.

The question is not if the initial response is successful, it is if that response will last and the end result will be real, meaningful change. This is the trouble across political and social lines: how can the individual’s voice converge with the whole to make effective change happen in real time? How do we dismantle the old system? What will the new system look like? Who will be responsible for policing networks? What are reasonable time frames to establish with a new understanding of political and social movement impact?

Whoa, that’s a lot of questions and I’ve only hit the high notes.

Take your pick which ones to answer, but the conclusion I am making is that any publicity is ultimately good for social movements, but it is importance to be aware that the network is always humming in the background and to question who might be influencing the distribution of the message.


Written by HiuHiMedia

October 27, 2010 at 4:52 am

2 Responses

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  1. Christian Sandvig has an essay, “The Structural Problems of the Internet for Cultural Policy” that addresses the issue of bandwidth and popularity. He investigates the “slashdot effect” in which smaller, marginalized sites suddenly become popular but do not have the bandwidth to sustain increased traffic. He argues that in with the current way the internet is structured, large-scale publicity requires large-scale capital outlay.

    To some extent, hosting content on sites like Tumblr and Facebook mitigate the slashdot effect, but it remains a problem for those who do not want the Ts&Cs of these sites. One benefit of corporate sponsorship of social movements is that they have the capital resources to effectively distribute wide-scale messages. These relationships have to be carefully monitored and certainly there are going to be some negative effects (limiting activism to socially acceptable strategies that do not invoke liability etc.) but I suppose there can be a few benefits as well…


    October 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

  2. Wow, great post and you bring up some really interesting points in regards to the collective and social movements. (I took the quiz and I’m “Idle”. Not going to lie, I was a little disappointed by that.)


    November 7, 2010 at 6:52 am

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