Using Social Media for Social Action
I'm writing this post from a hotel room in Maseru, Lesotho. Lesotho, in case you didn't know, is deep in the southern-most part of Africa, land-locked by South Africa. It is, you might think, an unlikely place for a blogger to be. After all, what do bloggers have to do with aid in Africa? But you'd be wrong. A blogger can have a lot to do with aid in Africa, or any other kind of social good. I'm here for some very good social media reasons.
I'm here because I'm visiting some on-the-ground projects that are funded by Born HIV Free, a program of the Global Fund, and I'm visiting these projects because Born HIV Free and the Global Fund want to raise awareness, and who better to raise awareness than bloggers? Who better than bloggers to take the real stories of what such projects look like, of what they mean to real people, and not just the posters and soundbites and late-night infomercials with Sally Struthers, and become part of those stories and tell them in real voices? Who better than storytellers, personal storytellers, coming at the story with their hearts and telling and showing their communities what it all looks like and sounds like and feels like?
Social media -- this is an awkward and ugly term, of course, but one that describes that mass of us, bloggers and publishers and twitterers and Flickrers and others, and what we do -- can make a difference in cases such as this, such as the one that I am in right now, because social media is conversation, it's discourse. It's all of us, talking, telling stories and sharing stories and keeping stories going because we're invested in the stories that we tell and that we hear because we are a narrative community, and for any issue or problem that might be helped by getting its story told, we are the people to do it. So it was for me with Tutus For Tanner, so it has been for Heather Spohr and her work on behalf of Maddie, so it was for so many BlogHers after the earthquake in Haiti, so it is for too many bloggers to count here. We're making a difference by telling these stories.
So it is that I am here, in Lesotho, meeting mothers who are HIV positive but who have, with the help of PMTCT (Preventing Mother To Child Transmission) treatment and support, children who are HIV-free, and meeting women who are pregnant and undergoing such treatment and meeting children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS and also meeting children, some children, who are not HIV-free. And I'm talking to you about here, now, and I've been talking about it on my blog and right here at BlogHer and I will keep talking about it, I will keep telling stories, because there are so, so many stories here to tell. There are all the personal stories to tell, of course -- such as those about these children and their mothers -- and my story in relation to these (because we always bring these narratives back to us, don't we? I have complicated feelings abut this, which is another story altogether), but there are also the bigger stories, such as how maternal health care really works in countries such as Lesotho (especially in the furthest, most rural reaches of these countries), and about how breastfeeding debates really are different under these sorts of circumstances, ditto debates about depression and mental illness and anxiety and maternal shame and maternal fear and all those things. I'll tell these stories, and hope that they make a little bit of difference, if only by getting other people to talk about them, and think about them, and maybe, maybe, do something if they get the chance.
This Thursday, tomorrow, is Social Media For Social Good Day, and it aims to celebrate exactly that -- our power to make a difference through the collective power of this new medium. It's hosted by Mashable and (RED), and what they have in mind is this:
We’re interested in unleashing fresh thinking about how social media can raise awareness and create solutions for social issues around the world. It starts with each community coming together and contributing ideas and, more importantly, solutions. Whatever community you’ll be participating in we want to know, “What’s your solution?” Let the world hear your ideas through social media!
You can find out more about participating in this at Mashable. But you can also celebrate social media for social good in your own way, simply by reflecting on the kind of change, or the cause, or the hope that matters to you, and writing about it or tweeting about it or uploading photos that capture it, or whatever expression of social media speaks to you.
I'll be celebrating by writing more about what I'm doing here in Africa, and how and why social media matters to this work. But my cause is not necessarily your cause, and although I'd love it if you spread my Lesotho/BornHIVFree story (and please, feel free to do so if it speaks to you) (or, you know, if these children speak to you) (look, nobody said we had to play fair on the Internet), I'm more interested in seeing you get inspired by the idea of using this medium for social good and acting on that inspiration in your own way. Write or photograph or vlog whatever change it is that you'd like to see in the world, and leave the link here so that we can all share it. Because that's what this is all about. Sharing, and inspiring through sharing, and making change through inspiring.
Let's go be inspiring.