The Alliance of Youth Movements Summit at Columbia University ended Friday with organizers announcing they will turn their six-week-old community of Facebook activists into a permanent anti-violence nonprofit to aid those using social media to work for peace around the world. Attendees included the founders of 17 activist groups that have sprung up independently online in the past year, mostly on Facebook and other social networking sites. Delegates gathered from as far away as Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. Hosted by Howcast, Facebook, MTV, the U.S. Department of State, YouTube, Google, and Access 360 Media, the conference produced a field manual written by attendees that will be used to guide others starting their own Net-powered groups. “The Internet is potent fuel for democracy—more than any war or troop surge or invasion,” said Katie Stanton, a group product manager at Google, one of the conference’s co-sponsors.
Here are some final conference highlights:
- In Rebooting Politics 2.0, a panel featuring some of the Obama campaign’s new media strategists, Sam Graham-Felsen, director of blogging and blog outreach, praised YouTube as a rapid response tool and urged cause activists of all stripes to use the video-sharing site to drum up support and shoot down opponents’ attempts to spread misinformation. “During the [Obama] campaign, if the McCain team put out an ad with inaccuracies in it, I’d run over to our deputy economics policy adviser and have him instantaneously rebut the ad, and then we’d put it right on YouTube a few hours later,” Graham-Felsen said. He also urged activists to assemble large, online armies to keep supporters engaged. “We had volunteers responding to every Facebook message and Myspace message that came in,” he said. “Organizing is the essence of democracy, and the more organizing you do, the more democracy you reap.” Added Joe Rospars, Obama’s new media director: “At the end of the day, it’s all about out-organizing the opposition.”
- Luke Russert, MSNBC’s 23-year-old youth correspondent and a Summit media panelist, coached conferees to keep their media messages short and targeted to mainstream issues and concerns. “Does a 44-year-old housewife in DesMoines, Iowa, really understand social networking? Probably not,” he said. “Keep the cause, itself, the message.” Check out Russert’s recent interview, here, with Summit co-organizer Jared Cohen, a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s policy planning staff.
- During a panel discussion on how to protect privacy, personal safety, and avoid being shut down in the world’s hot spots, Chris Michael of Witness.org warned conferees not to expect technology companies to defend social media-powered activists against censorship or other forms of intimidation. “If a government in a location wants information,” he said, “it’s very unlikely that a technology corporation will take a stand for an individual human rights activist.”
- Sherif Mansour, a program officer at Freedom House, described his group’s activist protection program, called the Blue Umbrella, which asks politicians, statesmen, journalists, and others in the West to speak out for those facing jail and torture in Egypt and across the Middle East. Check out this July 2008 video from JourneymanPictures, called Egypt’s Facebook Face-Off. It describes how Egyptians are starting to use social media to protest government policies in Cairo.
Marcia Stepanek is Founding Editor-in-Chief and President, News and Information, for Contribute Media, a New York-based magazine, Web site, and conference series about the new people and ideas of giving. She is the publisher of Cause Global, an acclaimed new blog about the use of digital media for social change. She also serves as moderator and producer of New Conversations for Change, Contribute’s forum series highlighting social entrepreneurs and new trends in philanthropy.