ADVOCATES WHO ARE engaged in campaigning for issues that are relatively controversial, complex, or difficult should make use of social media in order to magnify their voices and demonstrate that their movement “has legs.”
So said Harper Reed during a video-conference on the second day of eDemokrasya, the conference on the use of social media and technology for democracy promotion sponsored by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) at the Hyatt Hotel.
Reed, who spoke via webcam from his home in Chicago to a crowd of more than a hundred at the eDemokrasya forum in Manila, is a technology pioneer who was one of those responsible for the successful online Presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008.
Reed was asked by one of the Manila participants how advocates could maximize the use of social media in controversial and difficult campaigns, such as the campaign against political dynasties and warlords in the Philippines.
“What you can do with online and social media campaigns is you can really show that your movement has legs,” Reed said. ”
Reed said that the Obama 2008 campaign was also confronted with many difficult campaign issues such as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the US military, and the issue of gay marriage.
What the Obama campaign did, Reed recalled, was to tap into social media so that the issues would be relayed and re-echoed by supporters. This had the effect of showing how much support was out there for a controversial issue; at the same time, the re-echoing could have the effect of wooing fence-sitters to come down and take a stand.
“We asked our supporters and users to tweet in our name, or to retweet using our hashtag, to demonstrate to people who are sitting on the fence that we really have a big presence,” Reed said.
“There is a lot of opportunity there to give out a load roar from a small group of people,” he said.
Reed however pointed out that social media could also be misused and abused by other groups. “You saw this negatively during the Arab spring by some of the regimes,” he said. “So use it with care.”
Reed spoke of how social media should be used, not just to push content, but to serve as a way to listen and learn from the public what issues are important to them. This learning could then be used to engage the public and begin a conversation.
“Social media should be used for listening,” Reed said. “Social media is pushing content out, but social media also gives us the opportunity to focus on people in communities or constituency groups. Listen to what is important to them and react in real time.”