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Omaha Steve Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 09:26 AM
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The Nation: Social Movements 2.0

By Brendan Smith, Tim Costello & Jeremy Brecher

January 15, 2009

What We Don't Know

These rapid changes raise more questions than they answer. Here are eight that we've been grappling with:

1. What does it mean when individuals begin organizing outside and without the help of traditional organizations? We do not know the ramifications for unions, for example, if truckers increasingly come together online to organize protests over gas prices--as they did in April 2007--without ever attending a Teamster meeting or receiving a house call from an organizer. Traditional worker organizations have already been outflanked by the global economy; now they face the challenge of workers and their allies acting collectively outside of trade union structures. This type of online self-organization might offer fertile ground for social movement organizations, or it might mean traditional "brick and mortar" institutions need to rethink how they are structured and how to position themselves in a Web 2.0 world. Some organizations might reinvent themselves as network hubs that work to frame and synthesize issues for diverse and fragmented constituencies; others might begin to transform into bridging organizations that help transfer online organizing into offline political power.

2. It's easy and cheap for organizations to bring people together into a swarm or smart mob, but what do you do with them then? Groups like MoveOn have perfected how to share information, raise money and sign petitions. But outside the electoral arena, few have been successful in converting group interest into escalating political activity. Because of this, people are joining and then quickly dropping out of social networks. Labor and social movement organizations need to keep experimenting with how to keep workers engaged and encourage online activity, from information sharing and debate to initiating collaboration, innovation and collective action.

3. Will offline social movement organizations be willing to cede control as ordinary people increasingly leverage social networking tools to channel their own activities? The destruction of hierarchies online means that top-down organizations will face increasing pressure from members to permit more rank-and-file debate and input. This is a healthy process and a long time in coming. If traditional organizations are to embrace the dynamism of the social networking sphere and move beyond simply posting op-eds on Huffington Post written by union presidents or NGO executive directors, they will have to cede significant control. Organizations that resist this trend will become increasingly irrelevant online and offline.

4. How do labor and social movement organizations address the dangers associated with online action? The majority of online tools and spaces are commercial ventures, and the transparent nature of the web means that elites and bosses are always watching. Several Egyptian bloggers were jailed last year after participating in calls for a general strike. Facebook recently closed the account of an SEIU affiliate who was trying to organize casino workers in Nova Scotia, Canada. As Eric Lee told the Guardian, "Social networks in principle are excellent but something such as Facebook, for example, can close down anything it wants. So I think unions need to have their own tools, websites and mail lists." At the same time, there are legitimate concerns about the spread of online anonymous slander and racism, "mobbing" of innocent victims (e.g. "swiftboating"), false rumors or misinformation without ways to rebut. Social movements need to anticipate and respond quickly to racist, nationalist and other destructive forces converging online.

5. How do we track the demographics of who's online and who's not and what tools they are using? Some of the numbers on web usage are surprising. It's known, for example, that Latinos in the United States are offline in huge numbers but their cellphone use is skyrocketing just as mobile phones are increasingly web-enabled. It's also known that poor and working-class folks in the United States are often trapped offline, but those that are online appear to be more interactive and engaged than other segments of the population. According to the Pew Research Center, households making less than $50,000 a year are more likely to post content (pictures, music, comments in chatrooms, etc.) online than higher-income households. The demographics are changing fast; social movements need to be constantly reassessing assumptions about their target audience.

FULL story at link.

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