Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking by Deanna Zandt
Back in ’08, when the conventions of social networking were still maybe a little wonky (because of course they’re perfectly logical now), my husband wasn’t invited to a party because the invitations were sent out through Facebook and he didn’t have an account. Ever the 21st century writer, he quickly penned the following blog post, which I’ve reprinted in its entirety for your amusement:
Cakeboof; or, A Good Anagram Is Hard to Find
-A brief parable on the electronic age
Scene: The electronic mailroom. Tomemos approaches the Postmaster.
Tomemos: Hi there. I don’t think I’m getting my mail.
Postmaster: I’m terribly sorry, sir. What makes you say that?
T: Well, I keep hearing about events that I was supposed to be invited to, but I never get the invitations.
P: Hmm, that’s odd. Is your membership in Cakeboof current?
P: You know, Cakeboof, the social club. Pictures, hatching eggs. Lots of Scrabble. Don’t tell me you’re not a member of Cakeboof!
T: I guess I’m not.
P: That explains it! Nowadays, no one uses the mail anymore when they need to communicate. They just go into Cakeboof, write out a message, and yell it as loud as they can. That way, all of their friends who are members will know!
T: Couldn’t they just put invitations in the mail, like everyone used to do?
P: Oh, listen to Mr. Big over here! They’re already contacting everyone who’s a Cakeboof member; is it fair that they should have to use a whole new way of contacting people who aren’t Cakeboof members?
T: No, I mean, couldn’t they just mail everyone who they want to come?
P: How are they supposed to remember you? They never see you down at the Cakeboof!
T: That’s fair, I guess. So is it easy to be a member of the, uh, that club we’re talking about?
P: Sure! Just go down and register as a member. They’ll give you your own room, which you meticulously decorate. Then you just have to come to the club every day to see if you have any messages from your friends or from anyone who’s known you since high school. Also, watch your walls carefully in case someone comes into your room and writes something on them. It’s that simple!
T: I don’t have time to devote to some social club! I’m a very important person—I’m a widely-published author, plus the manager of two baseball teams!
P: Well, sir, I tell you what. If you won’t join Cakeboof, your friends could just mail you a picture of the message they sent everyone else via Cakeboof. That would probably be the most efficient thing.
Remember when hatching eggs were a thing? I had a bunch of those.
I think my husband – who, I should mention, still doesn’t have a Cakeboof account – is the exact audience Deanna Zandt is trying to reach in her book Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. The book makes a case for the usefulness of social networks for activist work, and gives practical advice on using them to further causes and build useful relationships. One of the most interesting ideas she explores is that of using networks to build empathy. One-on-one conversations have been a staple of organizing since forever, but Zandt demonstrates how having a one-on-one with two hundred people at once, in the form of wall posts and similar forms of mass communication, can in some ways be as intimate as sitting down with someone in person. She illustrates her point with the example of the country club in Philadelphia that banned a group of black children from swimming in its pool, saying that her social networking sites “lit up” with friends telling stories of similar experiences they’d had. Reading a story of discrimination or bigotry by a friend of yours, even a distant one, takes the situation out of the often abstract realm of mass media and plunks it squarely into your life – and you can do the same when you’re the one being discriminated against. Posting status updates or tweets on how an issue affects you personally is an effective way to build empathy before putting out a call to write a representative, participate in a rally, or sign a petition.
But it isn’t as simple as convincing your friends to sign a petition because they already know it’ll affect you. Zandt also explains the importance of authenticity in social networking spaces – that is, posting the right mix of personal and professional status updates and links so that more distant people in your network come to feel like they know you personally, and respect you enough to listen when you tell them to take action.
Zandt also covers the importance of avoiding “slacktivism,” resisting racist hierarchies, and creating and documenting history on Wikipedia; in the appendices, she offers a few quick words on fundraising and gives some advice for organizations. Again, it’s one-on-one tactics updated for new forms of communication, and anyone who’s already been utilizing social networks for activism will find it pretty pedestrian. If you’re someone like me, though, who tended until recently to keep my activism and my Facebook accounts separate (and I can’t even wrap my mind around Twitter yet), much of the advice is quite useful.
With all that said, though, the book misses an opportunity to really connect with committed activists. She includes few examples, and even fewer actually related to organizing, of how this stuff plays out in reality. Throughout the first half of the book, all the scenarios she describes seem to be more about business connections than organizing. Her section on tactics for organizations even assumes a nonprofit model, referring to employees rather than members. Overall, the book sits squarely in the middle of the privileged sphere, assuming that its readers want to repair the world because it seems like a good thing to do, not because their own well-being depends on it.
Furthermore, the way the book frames its premise is deeply troubling. Can social networking do some good? Certainly, depending on the work you’re doing. Will it change the world? No more than enthusiastic consent will end rape. Using hyperbolic language for relatively safe forms of social justice work isn’t just a minor irresponsibility; it gives privileged people the impression that they can make monumental change with little or no sacrifice, and that’s a very dangerous idea.
So take it with a grain of salt. If you’re already using Facebook like a pro, you can skip it. If you find yourself scratching your head at everyone’s obsession with these newfangled means of communication, though, this book is worth picking up.
- The Prodigal Book Reviewer by Julie December 31, 2010