Monthly Archives: November 2012

Blog # 5 – Social Media and Social Change: Learnings from the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring led to various theories around the importance of social media in the success and failures of the revolutions that were taking place. Was it a “cute” Facebook revolution or a movement that began decades in advance? According to Basem Fathy, the truth is complicated and doesn’t lie at the extremes in Egypt. The movement did not have a significant hierarchical structure with a charismatic leader and was instead a large, loose network of young and old activists that at one point decided to gather together for common action, then at another moment to separate and spread. According to Fathy, the influence of factors (conditions, events, and timing) was much greater that the influence of actors (individual people) and the internet was one factor among many that sparked the eruption of the revolution in Egypt. It was clear that the movement offline was always preceding the movement online, and the movement online suffered when there was a wide gap between online and offline activism.

But there were multiplier effects that were generated by the use of the internet. According to David Kirkpatrick and David Sanger in this New York Times article, the use of social media led to a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Inspired by the Tunisian revolution, the Egyptian Youth Movement saw an opportunity to turn its annual protest on Jan. 25 into a much bigger event One of the heroes of this movement, Wael Ghonim, a 31-year-old Google marketing executive, had “little experience in politics but an intense dislike for the abusive Egyptian police, the mainstay of the government’s power. He  offered his business savvy to the cause. “I worked in marketing, and I knew that if you build a brand you can get people to trust the brand,” he said.” His Facebook site was one of the primary elements for mobilizing support.

In her article, Zeynep Tufekci, describes the global campaign that helped release activist Mona El Tahawy. She says “it was a perfect storm. A global social media campaign, institutional power, grassroots Egyptian activists, network-savvy global players and traditional media converged upon Mona El Tahawy’s case”. She explains how although social media was not the only factor it can greatly change the way a global campaign can be run today due to the following factors:

1-     Speed. Social media speeds up everything.

2-     Social media allows for complex, diverse ad hoc networks to come together:

3-     Social media is integrated in an increasingly global, networked public sphere:

4-     Social Media fosters personal interaction:

5-     Social media works for prominent people better (rich get richer):

6-     Personal networks, unsurprisingly, remain the underlying key anchors of the global social media networks (hubs matter and hubs tend to be dense and interconnected among each other):

7-     Traditional big interests remain powerful and, along with dynamics of the attention economy, social media cannot overcome all obstacles (Bahrain. Bahrain).

8-     Just like pre-social media, it remains easier to organize for “no” harder to organize complex discussions:

These articles outline how networks, connections and movements must exist already in order for social changes to take place, but that social media can be an accelator and catalyst in an unprecendented way.

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Blog # 4 – Market Research, Crowdsourcing and Consumers – Online Organizing in Political Campaigns

In 2008, the Barack Obama campaign “built an online juggernaut. With 13 million emails, nearly 4 million donors, 2 million members of the My.BarackObama.com social network, and tens of thousands of engaged activists, Obama’s team broke new ground in using the internet to build a new kind of powerful political machine,” according to this note at techpresident.com .

What were some of the innovations and principles applied by the campaign? Three factors appear to be most important.

Data and Market Research

Understanding the voter and ensuring that this information is available to the campaign team efficiently and effectively is a process that is greatly sped up with the use of online tools. According to Seth Colter Walls, in Neighbor To Neighbor: How Obama Targets Undecideds Block By Block, “all of the information that supporters collect — such as, who is a supporter, who isn’t a supporter — syncs immediately and directly back into the master voter file. That in turn allows staff to really focus in on the people who we have identified as still being persuadable. … In the past the way this would have been done is by relying on field organizers to print out walk lists, get in cars and ferry around volunteers all across an unfamiliar area.”

Bazaars and Cathedrals 

Just as the principle of the bazaar – i.e. crowdsourcing – has been used to develop new IT products through disparate, unremunerated individuals, this concept has also been used in online organizing, with the 2008 Obama campaign allowing volunteers to organize themselves but within a certain set of broad guidelines. According to Zach Exley in “The New Organizers, What’s Really Behind Obama’s Ground Game”, the “”New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so “top-down” and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or “bottom-up” organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization.”

Reaching the “Consumer”

“Everywhere we went, we could plug in a zipcode, a list of really excited volunteers would pop up” according to one staffer in the HBS case “Barack Obama: Organizing for America 2.0”. This ability to reach the consumer – the potential voter – quickly, efficiently and in a targeted way defined the online organizing. Chris Hughes, the Obama campaign site manager and co-founder of facebook, explained that “battleground-state volunteers walking their own neighborhoods the weekend before election day could then feed back their data on the last remaining undecideds in something close to real time. According to Hughes, that “info could be re-tabulated within hours. And then volunteers in non-battleground states could receive new phone lists for follow up calls with just the remaining high-target undecideds the Monday before election day.” Additionally, one did not have to be in a battleground state to participate in the activities in a battleground state.

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