Last month, I completely disconnected from social media and spent every day talking with other similarly-disconnected digital campaigners and activists at Web of Change, an annual conference bringing together people working at the intersection of social change and technology.
It was eye-opening. Because of the lack of reliable internet I was forced to get reflective and ended up spending a lot of time talking with others about our shared concerns with current digital campaigning practices.
The power of digital platforms is immense, but they come with risks. It’s easy to get lost in today’s social media landscape. It’s easy to treat people like eyeballs and index fingers meant to consume and click. As digital campaigners we need to be hyper-aware of our blind spots and what sort of digital cultures we’re creating.
Here are a few things I wrote down at Web of Change that I’m going to try and internalize in my own work:
- Don’t forget digital is a tool, not an end goal.
If digital isn’t getting us to victory on our issues, why are we doing it?
- Don’t create petitions I wouldn’t sign.
If I don’t think the petition is going to have an impact, why am I sending it to thousands of people framed as the solution to a problem?
- Don’t send emails I wouldn’t want to read.
Email blasts have become formulaic and I read very few, even from organizations I love. Why send something I wouldn’t find interesting?
- Don’t post something on social media I wouldn’t share.
If it’s not good enough to get my share, why should it deserve others shares? And, along those lines, what is social media building towards, anyway? Make sure there’s a point to a post.
- Don’t treat people like numbers to be optimized.
To create lasting change, we need people to do more than share a post, sign a petition, or donate to the right charity. But asking people to step outside their comfort zone requires trust – and a relationship. We need to treat people like the complex and capable individuals they are, rather than numbers on a spreadsheet.
- Don’t treat supporters like a piggy bank.
Fundraising should come about because of the inspirational work an organization or campaign is doing. It needs to be earned through action. It shouldn’t be assumed or forced through pressure tactics or relentless requests.
- Lift up the grassroots and let them lead.
We win when the grassroots are mobilized and energized. This past year we saw that with the Women’s March, with Bernie, with Trump, with the fight for 15, with Standing Rock, the list goes on. People power is more than a slogan, it’s the surest route to victory.
- Spend time and money supporting marginalized voices.
Solidarity is a verb. It’s not something you say you’re doing, it’s something you DO. This means putting your money where your mouth is and giving to those who need it.
- Be honest and open with my theory of change.
The phrase ‘theory of change’ is used a lot in activist circles, but it isn’t often shared openly. Why not make it clear what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’re trying to accomplish it? As a potential supporter, that’s what I want to know.
- Check organizational ego at the door.
Organizations are tricky things. They’re usually great until they assume they know exactly what’s necessary in any given situation. I found Web of Change incredibly useful precisely because we weren’t speaking from the standpoint of our organizations.
- Get out of issue-specific silos.
With Trump in office, it’s clear the progressive movement is going to be facing incredible challenges over the next 4 years. Unless we stand together, we don’t have much hope. As the saying goes, “a single twig breaks easily but a bundle of twigs is strong.”
- Fight with everything I’ve got.
Digital campaigning isn’t some academic or statistical exercise. For many, it’s one of the fronts in what is a life or death battle. Don’t forget why you’re fighting and who you’re fighting for.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s what I’m thinking about right now. What’s missing?