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Monday, September 06, 2010

Chp 317. Tweeting for a social cause.

Last Saturday, I took part in my first ever Tweetup. For the uninitiated, tweetups are when people who use twitter “meet up” and discuss “stuff”. It might be a corny word if you’re hearing it for the first time.

According to comScore, twitter has the fastest growth rate among the top social networking sites here in India. It went from 984,000 members to 3,341,000 in the past one year alone – a whopping growth rate of 239%. So you can imagine the potential this medium has.

The tweetup was organized by JaagoRe! who gave us those memorable advertisements about voting and abolishing corruption.

Yup, as you can guess by now, it was not just another ordinary tweetup with discussions about blogging, twitter, music, books etc. It had a specific agenda: “Role of Digital Media for Social Change”.

Role of Digital Media for Social Change

Location: Zenzi Mills. Opposite Blue Frog. Mumbai.

Being a social change enthusiast, it was exactly the kind of tweetup I’ve been dying to go to.

The panelists consisted of renowned tweeple who had made a name for themselves both in the twitter world and in social activism:

  • Netra Parikh @netra – Network queen and Head Admin & Logistics at Pinstorm. A strong “influencer” for social cause related tweets.

  • Dina Mehta @dina – One of the earlier netizens/bloggers in India with over 7K+ followers on twitter, worked on many social causes with various NGOs.

  • Harish Iyer @hiyer – A prolific speaker/writer, an event manager, and one of Mumbai’s most reputed gay rights activist.

  • Priyanka Dalal @priyankawriting – Founder of a Digital Marketing Company DigiWhirl, volunteer at many NGO's and a renowned writer.

  • Mahafreed Irani @mahafreed – Senior correspondent and copy editor at Times of India and one of the more active journalists on twitter.

  • Bhairavi Sagar @BhairaviSagar - Owner/Director of Onion Insights and a volunteer with World without Wars and other NGOs.

  • Chandni Parekh @fundacause - Social psychologist, renowned activist and founder of “Fund A Cause” foundation.

  • Snighdha Manchanda @actionink – Writer, community evangelist, social media consultant and an avid blogger cum activist.

The discussion moderator was Abhishek Thakore @abhishekthakore - A social change entrepreneur who’s been spearheading a youth organization called “The Blue Ribbon” movement for over a decade now.

Apart from Netra and Mahafreed, I also met a couple of people I befriended at the Indiblogger Meet like Harmanjit, Vikrama and Arcopol who’s a journalist at DNA. Definitely felt good to say hi again to people who knew you.

There were around 20 other people who attended this tweetup, and you can see the complete list of attendants at the JaagoRe blog.

This tweetup was truly productive for me in terms of the things I learnt and how people can use twitter and other social media tools to push forward their agenda. There was a good flow of communication from the panelist side, and an equally prolific audience participation from the rest.

All the people who came there had a social cause in mind. Even though people may have different agenda, at the end of the day, they were all just people doing this because they love doing it. Their passion for a social change was undeniably present. From women’s rights and gay rights to environment activist and anti-corruption movement, many were directly involved with youth movements such as the pink chaddi campaign, blank noise project, the wall project etc.

What I have come to realize from the discussion is that, sometimes people may not find that many response to your attempt at making a change, because of the fact that we all have our own priorities when it comes to social change. To one person, education for the poor may be on the top of his list, whereas to the next person that would probably rank fifth and his main priority could actually be an “anti-tobacco drive”.

Therefore it is important to know where one’s interest lies in and how we can combine this with other people’s interest.

I write a lot of articles about racism and discrimination of people from the North East. This may not have much response if I do it by myself, but if I approach activists like Dina, Netra and Snighdha who are vociferous activists of women’s rights & equality, and instead label the movement as “discrimination of women from the North East”, it is bound to gather much more response from the masses because of their social media influence. Influencers can indeed make the impact happen.

One clear recent example would be the #ManipurBlockade incident on twitter. Many people from the North East tweeted about it, but it was only after Gul Panag tweeted about it that many of her 100,000+ followers retweeted and the whole Indian twitterspace was suddenly abuzz with this incident.

People started looking up at Google, Wikipedia, North East news websites and other sources to find out what this was all about (because the media failed to do so, again). Eventually, national newspapers and news channels finally started reporting footage about it to the rest of the country because of the pressure from the netizens. Once the news media (newspaper and TV) started making noise about it, the pressure was then shifted to the GOI who then had to interfere and do something about it. Better late than never I guess.

That’s the power of social media. And believe me, we are still just at the prenatal stage.

There are over 50 million internet users in India now according to Juxt Consult [Download the PDF version here]. Although this is merely 5% of India’s 1 billion population, the rate is growing steadily and many experts predicted that India will have the third largest internet population in the world by 2013.

Coming back to the JaagoRe tweetup –

Role of Digital Media for Social Change

The session had me taking down mental notes the entire time on how I could replicate their methods on our Mizo society, and how to make social cause movements more effective and productive.

All in all, it was an amazing experience listening to such great people share their thoughts on social movements and activities using digital medium like blogs, twitter, facebook etc. I think one of the best quotes was by Dina who said, “For digital media to succeed as a tool of social change, technology too needs to be humanized and given a heart.” Touché! Personify it. Don’t make your movement cold and inanimate just because you are using technology.

Another topic that really interested me that day was about “Armchair Activism”. Many of us are armchair activists. We support social movements from the sweet comfort of our home hidden behind our computer screens (and sometimes fake ids). How many of us actually convert that to the real world by going out there in person and protesting and fighting for our belief or rights? Or is being an armchair activist enough to make a difference?

For example, hypothetically speaking, I may write tons of articles about cruelty to stray dogs, but have never even set foot outside my home to take care of stray dogs. Is doing that enough? Or maybe my articles are touching somebody else who in turn is actually doing something to help stray dogs in the real world. Are armchair activists true activists? I’ll leave this up to you all to debate upon, my friends.

The tweetup ended with a short presentation by Ankit Nandwani, who volunteered with Open Space (through JaagoRe website) and launched a popular Anti-terrorism campaign in Pune called “Tranquility: Trigger Your Conscience!” This was followed by a screening of the winner of “Save Gaia 2010” short film award called “Life Drops” by director Ajit Sawant based on saving water. A really touching film indeed.

We left after that, each with a really cute JaagoRe mug as memento. And oh, the food was trés delicious too! Yummmm…

Looking forward to another great tweetup session like this. Thank you JaagoRe for such an amazing time.