Imagine you’re a wealthy shop owner and you hear about this “thing”, this new technology that strongly amplifies every voice raised on it and thus promises to lure paying customers into your business. Wow, you think, I don’t wanna miss this boat, and you ask how much it would cost. “It’s free”, some bearded hippies yawn at you and that makes you feel uncomfortable. You want a decent service from this “thing” and you will pay for it. “Alright”, a trimmed hipster tells you, “here’s the deal”. And you sign a contract with the new “thing” which will boost your sales eventually.
The “thing” is of course the internet, and what we have to understand is that the already-powerful will benefit more from it than the barely visible “grass roots” initiatives, no matter if they are a roadside fruit stall or a community center. The tiny initiatives don’t have a voice so there is nothing that can be amplified by our internet machine. Instead, we see Big Brands taking over this allegedly power-neutral web and benefit more from it than our beloved grassroots non-profits, even proportionally more.
The so-called “flatness of the world” proclaimed by Tom Friedman because he can travel anywhere on a whimp and marvel at multinational business deals, is a misleading metaphore at best. If we have something left in us that discounts the cynical “everything is fatally connected” and let the empathy with real people speak, then, o then… Then we should help the grassroots initiatives, the small rural hospitals, the women’s cooperatives, the peace groups, the environmental protesters, the orphan homes, the community art – everything that isn’t yet affected by the acid of hypercapitalist logic eating away its ties to land and life.
A way to do this is to take the very cynical neoliberal propaganda of “leveling the playing field” seriously. We should leverage their voices in order to make them found by skilled idealists who can help. If we say “it’s all about connections” we mean “it’s all about power” – and without a fistful of it you don’t exist. But if we stay determined even the powerless can be found. We just need to put them in a magic telephone book.
I mean our internet platform “kindmankind.net” and it’s for that platform that I do a daily “Social Media Fairness Session”. Because I think these sessions are worth your time this article is about them. So, how do I go about it? Let’s say I want to list some grassroots initiatives in the country of Chad. Google is of course a handy tool but we all know it has some built-in bias that is detrimental to the grassroots, and it doesn’t give us trusted results. So I choose couchsurfing.org to be my starting point. As pointed out on charitytravel.blogspot.com, where my journey started, the trusted profiles of couchsurfing can be of great value for small grassroots initiatives.
A careful keyword search yields a list of NGO directors, well-intended individuals and independent volunteers who might like to be listed on and found through our platform. So I write them a humble e-mail about it. Then I ask some users of flickr.com if we can use photos of little known countries like Chad. Perhaps there’s even some group on facebook.com or linkedin.com, I’ll contact them. Then I look at existing websites that are not open and use google to identify the grassroots stuff they are listing. They all receive an e-mail as well. Everything put together, we have a free and open map of the world (today including Chad) full of dots depicting fragile yet worthy contributions to a better world.
What do we do with this listing? This is the second phase of the Social Media Fairness Session, and consists of publishing to the social web (facebook, twitter, digg, del.icio.us, hellotxt, statusnet, skype, wikipedia, feedburner, twitterfeed, socialoomph, google+, buzz, idealist), and inspiring people to help where it’s needed. It includes writing and translating articles about the concept, reformulating it in many ways so as to reach a diverse audience of potential enthusiasts who take this idea and add their own. It includes traveling ourselves and demonstrating the spirit, to practice what we preach. And it inevitably leads to getting a little bit crazy, in the end.