by Jenn Riggle
Social media can help bring people together and drive social activism. And more importantly, it can help level the playing field when corporate carpetbaggers knock on people’s doors.
Not unlike the California Gold Rush of 1849, oil and gas companies are moving to rural areas across the country to access the precious natural gas that lies beneath the ground — and in people’s backyards.
Last week, I had an opportunity to meet with Chris Csikszentmihályi, director of the Center for Future Civic Media, to hear how the Center is bringing people together through something called “civic media” and “click-through activism.” The idea is that communities can use social media to support grassroots efforts, and in this case, help people defend themselves from opportunists who are using their money and political clout to their advantage.
The Center, which is on the forefront of social media activism, is a joint effort between the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and is funded through a four-year grant from the Knight Foundation.
I was struck by the work the Center is doing with the ExtrACT project, which uses Web-based and mobile tools to help level the playing field when representatives from oil and gas companies, called “landmen,” knock on people’s doors to negotiate gas leases. Many landowners are caught unaware and don’t realize they have negotiating options – or that these companies often use toxic chemicals during the exploration and drilling process, which can seep into the ground water and pollute the environment.
To empower these people, the Center has developed the Landman Report Card (LRC), which provides resources for landowners in Colorado and Ohio, and eventually New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, states that are experiencing booms in natural gas exploration. The Report Card serves as a resource where people can find information, learn about the options they have and share their experiences with landmen.
We’ve seen social media activism gaining in popularity, with everything from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to videos posted on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that showed the death of 26-year-old Neda Soltan, who was hailed as a martyr and became the face of the Iranian protests. Even The Washington Post wrote about this growing trend earlier this year.
According to a 2009 report from the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of Americans 18 to 29 use blogs or social networking sites for political or civic involvement, compared to 17 percent of online users 30-49. By the same token, the report states that people who use social media for civic engagement are more active participants in traditional political and nonpolitical engagements.
Knowledge is power, and by working together, people can make a difference.