Over the last few weeks, we have seen two more striking examples of the power of social media protests.
A few weeks ago, online protests, generated and fueled by social media, convinced a Congress, initially influenced by Entertainment Biz’ lobbyists and others, to drop it’s proposed federal anti-piracy legislation. Those in the internet community out there in cyberspace saw a threat to their freedoms enjoyed online, and the wind shifted more abruptly than most realized that it could. This, despite strong industry backing – the social media, like Facebook, My Space, U-Tube, Online Chats, and so many others now, has spoken: loud, fast, and hard to ignore.
It happened again at the end of last week. “Susan G. Komen for the Cure” announced a withdrawal of it’s funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings and another tornado of online social media protests swiftly ensued. This largest financial supporter of breast cancer advocacy and screenings announced last Thursday that it would stop something, which it had been doing now for decades – supporting Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings and other women’s health services.
Swifter than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a speeding locomotive, social media answered this decision – resoundingly. All seven California affiliates of “Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation,” speaking with one voice in cyberspace, quickly produced a statement opposing the decision to revise the new national grant policy of the Komen organization. The new Komen policy, announced earlier last week, was to no longer fund any organization that is under investigation at the regional, state or federal level – Planned Parenthood just happens to be the current subject of a Congressional “inquiry.” “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” an authorized statement from Komen read, when they changed their minds abruptly in the face of this internet firestorm.
The current Congressional “inquiry” of Planned Parenthood concerns allegations that public funds were used for abortion services by Planned Parenthood. Twenty-six Senators immediately opposed the Komen decision, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would donate $250,000 to Planned Parenthood to make up for the lost Komen funding. Planned Parenthood maintains that only 3% of it’s services are for abortions, whereas, their breast cancer screening programs and other women’s health services, often the only ones available to lower-income women, are a massive part of what they do.
Komen’s critics filled cyberspace with their anger and lashed the organization for what they said was caving to Pro-Life groups and their allies. What was truly amazing, however, was how fast all this happened. Social media now makes it possible for protests to organize, gain substantial traction, and to influence decision-making, faster and at levels higher than anybody would have believed a decade or two ago.
We have seen this all over the world in the last few years. The Arab Spring would not have been possible if social media did not offer in real time the ability to reach out and organize protests among many more people than would be possible any other way, or nearly as fast. That is why some countries which do not enjoy our freedom of speech, thought and communication, have moved almost as swiftly to shut down social media, especially when the people are marching in the streets.
The world of the internet, available now to some three, or so, billion people, out of seven billion on this planet, is either well understood and utilized by the tech-savvy, or still largely ignored by those who are not computer-friendly, or who are downright computer-phobic. I am Co-Moderator of a Forum operated by a group which collects and studies certain types of antique Japanese art forms. Our Forum literally goes 24/7 – we have people all over the globe who regularly contribute, and we discuss whatever strikes our fancy in real time, including posting photos of our latest treasures, posting links of museum collections, and fostering further academic study of the field. The organization, which sponsors the Forum, publishes a hard copy print journal quarterly and in that journal letters to the editor are published and responded to, but the Forum allows all this to happen online while you have your first cup of coffee in the morning.
The other Co-Moderator of this Forum handles what I jokingly call the “Night Shift,” because he lives in Geneva, Switzerland – thus we have 24/7 coverage for our 24/7 members, who love to talk, argue, discuss and question at all hours. The Internet never sleeps, never gets tired, never needs to take a break.
I also regularly video-skype with people in Europe, Asia, and other far-flung places. If you have never video-skyped, you are in for a mind expanding experience, talking face to face with somebody in real time who is located 10,000 miles away, and seeing them as clearly as looking in a mirror.
Social media is only just getting started. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If this subject just whooshed over your head because you don’t go on the internet, or don’t know what social media is, ask your children, or your grandchildren – they all know because they are texting, chatting, video-skyping, Facebooking, and more, and maybe you are not- yet, anyway. You might be missing something – something very big.