Monday, 24 March 2008

Changing the world one Facebook group at a time

Who has eagerly joined a ‘group’ on facebook devoted to whatever worthy cause only for it to remain completely inactive? It appears merely as a line on your list of other inactive facebook groups. Even though it’s “only Facebook”, it leaves me disillusioned about the influence of the web on building community and promoting social change. Nevertheless there is an increasingly strong case to be made for the potential centrality of the internet in connecting and mobilising individuals around common concerns, interests and goals.

In mid-March I attended a conference aimed at exploring new forms of social organisation, practices that lead to change and ideas about the use of online tools to influence and democratise society. The Web 2.0 ethos framed the two days; that is changing order of information around the centrality of the user. Caroline Basset from the University of Sussex described the Web 2.0 phenonmenon well, “the fuller realization of the web platform” implying more than use but “active participation, agency and/or active networks”. Caroline challenged participants at the outset by asking, What is agency? What do we mean by participation? Does the 2.0 model imply social responsibility? And Is it naturally ethical?

I will leave these questions open-ended and unanswered; however, presentations throughout the 2 day event acted as case studies demonstrating how the internet can be used to increase individual agency and influence and mobilize social networks. Presentation highlights included an online global awareness and citizenship community for children called Panwapa and a proposal for a “collaborative aid marketplace” which sought to transform the architecture of humanitarian aid. This concept proposed to change the power dynamic of aid so civil society and the private sector work together transparently through an online collaborative network of shareholders on a virtual stockmarket.

My humblest apologies to presenters for reducing their contributions to two sentences, but they have reaffirmed how web tools have the potential to reach a broad spectrum of individuals around a common purpose. It is heartening to know AIDSPortal is part of a broader movement where participation and change are at the core. The conference gave me hope about building community focused on social change, be it not necessarily on facebook. It left me with questions for AIDSPortal. How far do we see AIDSPortal’s reach? And how can we ensure it is a community driven by active participation of its users?

For more on this PRADsa conference go to http://www.technologyandsocialaction.org/

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