Community organizing has been an interest of mine for years. It embraces the concept of leadership and followership in many ways. A number of years ago, (okay, about 20 years ago), the Skinny Professor introduced me to a book called “Rules for Radicals” by a radical names Saul Alinsky. It contained the basic rules for community organizing. President Obama mentioned Alinsky in one of his memoirs. Alinsky was a genius at creating effective community action.
Recently, I came across an interesting book on the impact that new technologies and social media are having on the ability of communities to organize. Here Comes Everybody in a thought provoking discussion of the shift in community organizing — the increased ease with which communities can organize and act to provoke change.
While this ease is likely to bring many benefits, and reduce political oppression everywhere, (witness the impact of technology on the political protest in Iran over election results), there are some potential concerns with this new technology.
This spring, a young girl was kidnapped and murdered near my hometown. The news was covered across the country. Facebook pages sprung up supporting the family. However, over a few weeks, many people on the facebook pages started to attack the mother of this young child, making veiled accusations and other hurtful attacks. The community had turned on the mother publically without access to important information. Several weeks later, the murderers were caught, and the mother exonerated.
The point of this sad story is that community or group action may be well grounded and needed. Or it may be based on opinion, heresay and supposition. And once groups of people begin to voice their opinions on the net, they can profoundly damage a person’s reputation (never mind the emotional toll these attacks can take). As citizens in a new social media world, we need to use our critical thinking, logic and discretion even more carefully to avoid doing untold, unrepairable damage to others. Not only is it easier to organize, it is much easier to cause damage. We need to learn to use these tools carefully.