Idea-sharing swarms at a pivotal moment in US history
It’s interesting to watch swarming behavior on-line and figuring out how it happens. Conflict and debate seems to be a key part.
With the inauguration of Barack Obama just around the corner, the internet has been buzzing with hope for real change. As an example of this, Change.ORG, the social networking website that launched in 2007, has been compiling “ideas for change in America” to present to the new Obama administration. In the first round of idea-gathering, advocates on multiple issues rallied their respective members to post ideas and vote for them on the site. From November 24 – December 31, 2008, Change.org reports that it had more than 7,783 submissions for ideas and over 288,694 votes.
At the beginning of 2009, Change.org announced the winning issues for the second round and the results were contentious, especially in the case of immigrant rights. Some proponents of immigration enforcement weren’t happy that their agenda didn’t make the final list. One of the “hater” groups, admitted to its members that it had confused Change.org with Change.GOV, Obama’s official site for his transition that launched in November 2008.
Student activists for the DREAM Act (which would give undocumented students legal status) saw the difference between the two sites and rallied their supporters on both platforms. The Dream Act is now in Change.org’s Top 10 issues and it’s also getting traffic on Change.gov. See one of their videos below “Vote for the DREAM Act at Chang.org.”
So who benefits from this flurry of activity?
Well, Change.ORG to begin with: it now has lots of new users and members. Even the people unhappy with the results are helping publicize the site. Advocates also benefit because they learn something about cyber-rallying supporters and what it means to communicate the change they want to see. Activists unhappy with the results might write off websites when they don’t see the results they want. Some idea “losers” are dismissing the entire site, citing that drug legalization tops both lists.
But unlike corporate media, social media means that people on both sides of an issue are learning what it means to frame and support thier beliefs, something integral to civic engagement.