Social Media Mind Wakes Up and Flexes Its Muscular Influence: SOPA, Komen, and OWS

the social media political power - mind the gapThe recent sequence of social media-influenced victories points to an online audience of “participants” rather than just “clickers” and “likers.” When the Komen foundation began to weaken and reverse their defunding of Planned Parenthood yesterday, the social web claimed another victory of influence. And while SOPA is not done, the webbies can claim a pretty powerful response to this misguided legislation as well.

So what is happening? Why now? What’s different? And what things have not changed?

As Americans we love to fight for the liberation and rescue of other like-minded countries. When Haiti was devistated, the social media response was immediate and quite powerful. The relief organizations were initially overwhelmed by the donations. These are online-activated people offering physical labor, clothes and supplies, and ultimately money. It was quite a moment. And then Egypt rose up in a Tianmen-like moment in Cairo and again the web participants changed the color of their avatars on Twitter and Facebook to reflect their support of the seemingly social-media-driven uprising against a cruel dictatorship.

People do want to be on the winning side of a cause. And humanitarian causes are the easiest to support. When things get political the response is a bit more tempered. And when things begin to show up in your own town, in your civic centers, and your actions could have personal consequences the support response is more restrained. We will come back to the power and challenge of the Occupy movement in a minute.

So taking an issue like Pro-Live vs Pro-Choice (Komen and Planned Parenthood) the voices, opinions, and actions have a very different tone and energy than support for Egypt or Haiti. The news for social media proponents is that people showed up en masse to voice their anger at one of the most respected and loved brands in non-profit fundraising, the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The same company that emblazoned the pink ribbon in our cultural minds, was now under fire for the actions of a few individuals who had recently come to power within the organization.

Regardless of how you feel about Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice, the issues behind this multi-billion dollar political action by a beloved non-profit focused on breast cancer research, regardless of how you feel about that issue, the response social media response was HUGE. And it stretched beyond Twitter and Facebook and quickly into the main-stream media outlets. And suddenly the Komen Foundation was under fire for using their non-profit status to force a moral belief (clearly not shared by a majority of Americans) down our proverbial throats.

What I noticed in my little sphere of social media was a massive out pouring that was a mix of humor, anger, and action. Not only were my liberal friends asking for people to like and retweet the news, but they were also making statements like this, “I hope all of my friends are actually sending in money to PP and not just doing the easy social media support thing.”

And yesterday Komen reversed their controversial (and morally divisive) decision. They did not reinstate the PP grants, but they made a public statement that admitted their mistake. That’s enough for now. The public opinion and “action” machine online had made its point. Much like the SOPA blackouts that crossed Wikipedia, Twitter, and thousands of other sites, the Komen retreat was a massive and swift victory for public response.

Finally, looking at some of the reaction and controversy surround the Occupy Wall Street movement, we can see when the actions can have immediate at dire financial consequences the reaction and support is a bit more discreet. So people who will support and march with the occupiers, will not come out and shout their support online, as they did in the Komen case. And the police chief of our city when thanked by an occupier for providing protection, said, “It’s our pension plan too.”

The HARD PART to understand is the continued police crack down on the occupiers across America. Actions that we would violently oppose in other countries are being tolerated and in some cases supported. Yesterday, in my fair and progressive city of Austin, the police decided they had put up with the occupiers at City Hall long enough. And at 10 pm, according to local news, the police began to force the physical clearing of the occupy camp. With arrests and threats to accompany their force.

The amazing part, to me, was the online reaction. On the local paper’s website the curses and vitriolic hate came quickly and almost violently. “Get a job!” and “About time!” and “Good riddance!” comments flowed in at about a 5-to-1 ratio.

What is it about Occupy Wall Street and the “Get a Job” public that is causing such a divisive and violent rift? The Komen reaction and response was tame compared to our local reaction to the OWS police forced removal, last night.

And why is it, that even writing about OWS gives me trepidation about my own security?

BOTTOM LINE: The social web is powerful and swift. With SOPA and Komen the social influence is clearly a driving force behind these reversals of action. With OWS there is something even deeper than Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice at work. And the widening gulf between the two sides of the issue is getting bigger and more enflamed. I don’t know what it is. If you have ideas I’d love to hear them in the comments or directly.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John – enjoyed your post.  I wonder if the duration of OWS impacts who engages and what is said in the social space.  The Komen firestorm gave the Pro-Choice group a new and captivating place to air their views, where the OWS movement’s non-active but passionate supporters have already expressed their solidarity.  The OWS crackdowns have been talked about for months, with action coming incrementally and in a somewhat disbursed way – so my sense is that without a galvanizing display, OWS has become a faded blip on the radar screen.

    I think timing and freshness/new-ness play a huge role in the social space.  Thoughts?

    1. Hi Liz. I have been making an effort not to write about #OWS. I think the blip is long from faded and the effects will be felt most acutely in the upcoming #election.

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