Causes: Causing a Stir for Social Impact

A recent event has brought up some huge red flags for me around data, around communities, around social impact, inclusion and even more.  It’s a case of letting technology lead (or, rather, the people behind the technology) instead of the communities on the other end.  This event focuses on Causes, an application for supporting and fundraising for organizations by individuals, groups and even the organizations themselves.
First, let me explain what happened yesterday.  Administrators of Causes accounts on MySpace received a notice via email stating, “Thank you for the work you’ve done on Causes on MySpace.  Due to the lack of activity on MySpace, we’ve decided to focus our efforts on the Causes Application on Facebook.” (To read the full message, click here.) The message indicated that all Causes-related pages and content on MySpace would be taken down at the end of the week.
This may not seem too terribly interesting or scary, but let’s take a closer look.

What it Means to Individuals

I blogged earlier this year about research that indicates very strongly we’ve replicated our offline social barriers and segmentation in our online social networking platforms.  (Visit danah boyd’s website for more information and research on this topic.) Different communities have aligned and adopted different social networks, social media tools, communications platforms, etc. The tools we use often reflect the communities we are in, whether those communities are geographic, ethnic, or otherwise.
I consistently advocate that organizations go where their community is—because that community is already connected and people are already talking about you, your services or your sector.  Why? Because individuals network together online and the biggest influencers are our closest friends in our network.  When a friend starts a campaign, supports or fundraises for an organization or cause publicly on a social networking platform, they broadcast that action and encourage their friends to do the same.
Causes leaving MySpace means that no users there (though, there certainly seem to be A LOT of users) will be able to continue promoting the causes, organizations or sectors that they care about via a process that’s already been established, adopted, and networked.  I’ve even talked before about how I believe Millennials are using alignment and promotion of social impact areas (whether it’s a sector, like Human Rights; or a nonprofit, like Planned Parenthood; etc.) as a form of self expression and identification.  Applications like Causes also enable individuals to give voices to your work that you don’t have to control or manage – campaigns that benefit you because your supporters believe and appreciate the work you are doing.  (Check out a great post from Ivan Boothe of Rootwork on this topic.)
In a big way, removing the Causes application from MySpace will mean many people don’t have the “space” to bare their badges of support, to leverage a networked dashboard of lapel pins that align them and define them.

What it Means to Communities

Causes’ About statement says, “The goal of all this is what we call “equal opportunity activism.” We’re trying to level the playing field by empowering individuals to change the world.”
The debate around social media and the Internet in general as a leveling force is still heated from all sides.  Yes you can claim that anyone has the power to blog, but that’s really only the people who have access to the tools and the time and the empowerment.  The access debate aside, the removal of Causes from MySpace where there are active communities of supporters means “equal opportunity activism” is defined by only certain communities (as we know that social networking platforms have very different demographic user groups).
It also skews the idea that organizations can focus energy where their communities already are.  Though, with MySpace, organizations have different opportunities for creating profiles and interacting with supporters than on Facebook.

Looking Ahead

Causes has yet to post anything about this on their blog and the MySpace option is still prominently displayed next to Facebook at the top of the site. Obviously, there are many questions users, administrators and communities would like answered.  For example, what will happen to the content, the communications, the information?  Will organizations or administrators still be able to connect with or communicate with their list of supporters? And so on.
But there are many other, larger, questions this example raises for me:

  • Is this an indication that communities will have to take the lead of technologies (and the people behind them)?
  • How can communities communicate and demand technologies take the lead from them?
  • How are organizations building community online in a way that safe guards them from third-parties (maintaining the connections to supporters on MySpace that were gained via Causes by inviting users to register directly with the organization as well, etc.)?
  • What will be the requirement in an open data or open web for applications serving communities?
  • How do we, as public thinkers about this “stuff,” help guide organizations in navigating these questions and others?”

From a blogpost by Amy Sample Ward.

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