We have seen many cases recently where the digital transformation of advocacy tactics has truly revolutionized the power of the singular voice. There has been a seismic shift in the balance of power, from the shaking of dictatorships during the Arab Spring, to corporate America, all under fire from average people using the Internet as their weapon of choice.
Take for instance Molly Katchpole, a 22-year-old, nonprofit worker challenged corporate America from her apartment using only her laptop and an Internet connection. She took on the second-largest bank in America, Bank of America and their announced five dollar monthly fee for debit card use. She filed an online petition, in the fall of 2011, through Change.org, “At some point we have to say enough is enough. Please join me and telling Bank of America you’re fed up,” wrote Molly. Quickly the petition amassed 300,000 signatures and the story generated national media attention for how rapidly it prompted Bank of America to rescind the fee. In the past a petition drive would drag on for months as advocates sought enough support, one signature the time, to create change. Molly then took on Verizon for adding a fee to their consumers, winning a battle against one of corporate America’s giant communications companies.
Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO of Change.org, “We have taken the world’s oldest advocacy tool, the petition, and propelled it into the 21st century and the modern-day petition mobilizes people more rapidly and more socially in a way that makes it impossible to ignore.” Rattray added, “People are shocked at their own capacity to make a difference on things they previously could not affect.” There has always been protest for as long as people have been gathering. Now protests can form and grow a lot faster, forcing corporations and governments to react a lot faster than they may normally be comfortable in doing. At change.org thousands of new petitions are being created monthly. Currently there is a petition against Enterprise Rent-A-Car, asking them to stop opposing a law prohibiting companies from renting out recalled cars. As of today they have over 132,000 signatures and counting.
When lawmakers recently came close to passing anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA, SOPA standing for Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA standing for Protect Intellectual Property Act, the Internet response was overwhelming. Many people believed these acts would squash the freedom of the Internet. Many major websites like Google, Wired, Wikipedia, and many others were clothed in black for a day. The only thing one could do on the Wikipedia site was to contact their congressman, and according to a Wikipedia spokesperson, millions did. Congress listened to the drumbeat coming from the people on the Internet by having many members reconsider this pending legislation. Once again when people use their voice to speak out, they demonstrate their collective power.
Even the 140 character social networking service Twitter has played an important role as an instantaneous communication tool during times of unrest. A couple of years ago the US State Department asked Twitter to hold off on a planned routine maintenance, which would temporarily take down the site, which coincided with planned protests inside Iran.
Earlier this year, during a presentation at a media conference in California, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said, “I really think 2012 is going to be the Twitter Election.” Twitter has become a real-time essential tool for reaching voters as well as gathering and responding to feedback. “Washington is really starting to get that too … [It's] actively engaging in the real-time feedback loop now,” he added. “Candidates who don’t participate in the conversation on twitter will be left behind. The next morning is too late to respond.”
There is no avoiding the power that social media has given to people who have in the past viewed themselves as powerless. People who have not previously been associated with a formal advocacy group now single-handedly have a powerful voice.
Many points from this blog post were taking from the CBS News Sunday morning show which aired February 12, 2012.