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Craig Newmark Headshot

Social Media and Democracy; Getting It Done, Taking It Personally

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People use social media tech to get stuff done. We saw it in the 2008 presidential elections, and now used effectively by the grassroots factions of the Tea Party. We see it used by veterans acting via and classroom teachers via

We also saw it used effectively using Gutenberg tech by a guy named Luther; it's not all that new.

The deal is that social media can be used to motivate large numbers of people if it's used to promote an idea whose time has come, to fire up a latent tipping point.

Big observations:

-- it works from the grassroots up
-- no one's really in control
-- the initiators of any such effort lose control of the message
-- it can be used for the common good or to exploit people of good will for personal profit

We're talking about leaderless organization in the sense that no one's the boss. An individual can inspire and lead by words and example, but no one's taking orders.

The decentralized nature of grassroots social media, however, means that any participant can transmit any variant of original messages they choose. That's why we have many Protestant churches, and why there are a number of different grassroots Tea Party factions.

People mostly act from good will, whatever that means to them. The preceding examples are of people acting from their own visions of the common good.

However, the down side of social media is that it can be used to manipulate people of good will, usually by disinforming them.

For example, social media has been used to successfully transmit a lot of bad info regarding healthcare reform, like the "death panel" thing. It's also been used to propagate disinformation regarding the president's political beliefs. In one notorious example, social media was used to smear a prominent philanthropic family.

Abuse of craigslist, which is supposed to help people, really pisses me off.  And in the short-term, that tends to suck all the joy of life from me.

Maybe I could just get even more pissed off, but I feel better about learning the lessons of social media, realizing that what makes me really happy is to get stuff done. That is, I can restore that joy by helping out a lot more people in ways that matter.

More specifically, I can find ways to connect people of good will, people who are good at getting stuff done, and maybe find ways to protect their efforts from scammers. Looks like what works is that I connect effective people, then get the word out repeatedly, and for the most part, I stay out of the way. (The last is the hard part.)

Just to repeat, instead of getting pissed off and living angry, I'll support and protect people doing good work, indirectly helping out more and more millions of people.

In general, I'm working with a team now figuring out how to enable everyone, and I mean everyone, to support good stuff in large connected networks.

First, we need some way to stand up and bear witness for the good work that others do, mostly focusing on nonprofits. The deal is that we can affirm their work, and maybe contribute cash and/or time. We can also link to other people who stand up for good stuff.

I'm hoping that people link up to good causes and to good people, creating an implicit network that eventually covers the world, billions of people.

This means that we need some kind of immune system to protect us from fake groups, like political fronts or fake nonprofits. This will be really difficult, but I'm talking to people who investigate this and also others building a "Yelp for nonprofits."

Aside from broad efforts, I'm looking at particular efforts I'm passionate about. For example, veterans need one stop help for basics, like getting educational and medical benefits. There are already a lot of good groups doing good work, but vets need one place to get help, maybe local.

Maybe the first attempt at building a broad network won't go anywhere; that's okay, we'll learn stuff that will make a subsequent effort work. I'm personally committing twenty years to this, should be enough. Y'know, better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; better to get others to change the world than to stay pissed off.

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