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February 27 2014

February 06 2014

Pussy Riot Concert Casts Doubt on Pop Music's Marriage With Activism

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — By the time Yoko Ono and the psychedelic Flaming Lips took the stage at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, about half of the audience at Amnesty International's Bringing Human Rights Home concert had left Barclays Center to head home

It was the culmination of a long mid-week concert at which both the musicians and audience were enthusiastic about pairing songs and activism, but neither group seemed totally confident carrying that torch. The event featured nine musical acts built around a speaking appearance by two recently-freed Russian activists from punk band Pussy Riot.

More about Entertainment, New York, Activism, Amnesty International, and Music
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January 31 2014

13-Year-Old Blogger: I Promise Girls Will Change the World

Jules Spector hopes to end child prostitution and child marriage in developing countries. She hopes for equal rights for LGBT couples, not only in the U.S. but around the world. She hopes the media will stop portraying women as sex objects. She hopes the contributions of women will be valued in the male-dominated fields of science, technology and engineering.

And she hopes to pass her midterms — she's still in middle school, after all.

In December, 13-year-old Spector launched Teen Feminist, a blog devoted to highlighting feminist causes and culture from a teenager's point of view. The blog's readership spiked dramatically after fellow feminists took note, receiving retweets from PolicyMic's Elizabeth Plank, Marie Claire's Lea Goldman and Amanda de Cadenet of The Conversation Read more...

More about Blogging, Features, Teens, Social Good, and Activism

December 26 2013

Russia Drops Charges Against Greenpeace 'Arctic 30' Activists

A group of 30 Greenpeace activists stuck in Russia awaiting trial received their freedom for Christmas this year.

Greenpeace announced Wednesday that Russia dropped criminal hooliganism charges against each of the so-called "Arctic 30." The organization also said 14 of the group's 26 non-Russian members were cleared to leave Russia Thursday, and it expects the rest to receive clearance Friday.

The protestors were taken into custody Sept. 19 when armed Russian military members boarded their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, during a protest of oil drilling in arctic waters. The Russian government eventually reduced the charges against the group from piracy to hooliganism and released the group members on bail in November. Non-Russian members of the group were going to have to remain in the country until their trial. Read more...

More about Russia, Activism, Greenpeace, Us World, and World

September 13 2013

Online Retailer Uses Activism as Currency

Indie online clothing retailer Aplomb revamped its business model to eliminate cash exchange and instead promote the exchange of ideas.

Creative individuals write articles about things they want to advocate for and post their written content (from articles to music lyrics) to Aplomb’s community website. Topics range across a wide variety –- from gun control to LGBT rights. People read the content and vote on the cause. Site members gain points by contributing ideas and voting on others’ ideas. The causes that get the most votes get turned into visual representations by up-and-coming artists that are printed on Aplomb’s clothing. Site visitors use points (not money) to buy the clothing, so they can literally wear their support of the cause. Read more...

More about Online Shopping, Retailers, Clothing, Activism, and Online Activism

March 26 2013

The Internet Goes Red & Pink In Support Of Marriage Equality

If you've logged on to Facebook or any other type of social media today, you may have noticed that the Internet is awash in a sea of red and pink. Many people have changed their profile pictures to be the same image: two pink bars on a field of red. What is it?

That’s the “Red Equals Sign” and it's a symbol for marriage equality. Today is the first day of Supreme Court oral arguments over the constitutionality of California ballot initiative Proposition 8. Passed during the 2008 elections, Prop 8 defines recognized marriage in California as only valid between a man and a woman.

The Red Equals Sign has been championed by the Human Rights Campaign, an activist group that works for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights. The campaign urges people to wear red today and has organized for people to stand outside of the U.S. Supreme Court while the ballot initiative is being debated inside. 

The group has galvanized social media with the Red Equals Sign as well as the hashtag #UnitedforMarriage. 

Over the past couple of years, the Internet has occasionally flared into a hotbed of activism around particular issues, especially pertaining to court cases and proposed legislation. The most famous instance in the past year was when the Web “blacked out” as a response to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in January 2012.

Among other things, SOPA would have allowed the federal government to effectively "black out" sites accused of fomenting copyright infringement without judicial involvement or much in the way of due process. Sites such as Reddit went completely dark that day and even search behemoth Google blacked out its logo as part of the activism against SOPA. 

Did you change your Facebook profile picture today to support marriage equality? Let us know in the comments. 

Tags: Activism

August 10 2012

August 08 2012

October 24 2011

Why Slacktivism Is Underrated

Katya Andresen is chief strategy officer of Network for Good, author of Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes and blogs at nonprofitmarketingblog.com. You can find her on Twitter @katyaN4G.

So called “slacktivists” take easy, social actions in support of a cause – signing a petition, liking a Facebook Page or putting a pink ribbon on their avatar. But that’s pretty much where their involvement ends, right?

Slacktivists tend to get a bad rap: they lack real commitment, care only about self-satisfaction and don’t contribute to meaningful change. So, why waste time with these lightweight social activists?

Because new research shows just how valuable social actions (however easy) can be.

The Dynamics of Cause Engagement study by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Worldwide shows slacktivists (whom I prefer to call “social champions”) are more likely to take meaningful actions.

In the 2010 national survey, people who frequently engaged in promotional social activity were:

  • As likely as non-social media promoters to donate
  • Twice as likely to volunteer their time
  • Twice as likely to take part in events like charity walks
  • More than twice as likely to buy products or services from companies that supported the cause
  • Three times as likely to solicit donations on behalf of their cause
  • More than four times as likely to encourage others to sign a petition or contact political representatives

The survey was conducted in late 2010 by TNS Global among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 American adults, ages 18 and over, with a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

The bottom line? Just because people are doing something easy on social media doesn’t mean that’s all they are doing. In fact, so-called slacktivists participate in more than twice as many activities as people who don’t engage in slacktivism. Plus, the activities that slacktivists choose to undertake have a higher potential to influence others.

“This research shows good causes should focus like a laser beam on social champions because they will do more, spread more, and advance your cause more,” says Julie Dixon of Georgetown’s Center for Social Impact Communication.

Here are four important tips for people who care about advancing good causes.

  • Don’t stereotype slacktivists. Just because people are taking easy actions online doesn’t mean they aren’t willing – or already doing – more for a cause.
  • Social champions have real value, because they’re not only likely to undertake certain activities; they’re also more likely to spread the word. The same study found the second most common way people get involved in a cause after donating is by talking to others about it. Word of mouth is critically important, so focus on the people willing to spread it.
  • Slacktivists are like the rest of us. They exhibit varying degrees of commitment to different causes. The message here isn’t that all slacktivists are diehard activists. They may be willing to join a Facebook cause for one non-profit, but run a marathon and raise a fortune for another. It’s up to the non-profit to see slacktivist action as a sign of interest, and then to deepen that interest with strong engagement.
  • Measure your engagement with everyone, slacktivist or not, so you know your time is well spent. You really don’t know who is worth the most time until you pay attention to the actions people take. Make sure you have the systems in place to determine your return on investment.

Don’t slack off yourself when it comes to engaging with slacktivists. They may be far more energetic – and interested – than you think.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, AnthiaCumming

More About: activism, causes, Social Good, Social Media

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August 26 2011

5 Tips for Sparking a Grassroots Movement Online

grassroots image

Anne Driscoll is the vice president of business operations at Ning, where she is responsible for marketing, communications, creative services and human resources. Prior to joining Ning, Anne led communications and brand initiatives at Google.

“Social action” comes easy to those who understand the value of service, helping others and devoting themselves to making the world a better place despite challenges. The trick is turning that personal motivation into a widespread and impactful movement. Grassroots communities are a way to get actionable success even with limited budgets and resources.

On such organization, Amplifying Education, is an initiative focused on creating a safe space for students to collaborate and share, inspire others to act, build connections around a cause and start conversations to drive momentum. In just three months, the organization called on a grassroots community to collect 6,238 books for New Orleans schools and help raise more than $250,000 for education programs including Teach For America and City Year Denver.

It’s further proof that you don’t have to be a millionaire to have an impact. It’s easier than ever to take an idea and ignite a movement. Thousands and thousands of people are leveraging the power of community through social websites to create grassroots support. Here are five tips for sparking your own grassroots movement online.

1. Don’t Raise an Issue, Tell a story

Many of us might start an issue-based campaign by talking about the goal. However, people are drawn in by the story. Build an emotional connection with your audience by sharing a true story of a real person’s life and struggle.

Simply combining facts and emotions into a powerful narrative conveys far more than a 40-page proposal. Through storytelling, you make a human connection between your audience and the cause.

2. Reward Your Supporters

A story may secure a one-time donation, sell cookies or land a Facebook “Like,” but you need to recruit a passionate group of volunteers to make a cause sustainable and scalable. We’re all constantly bombarded with requests to help, so a solid reason to participate is essential to get an initial connection to your cause.

Creating a sustainable program builds momentum and promotes growth. A campaign can ensure that volunteers become a bigger part of the story and its success with each action by rewarding people for their participation.

Getting to know your audience helps you build a compelling activity they’ll want to join and support. A grassroots movement is about building something self-sustaining. Enable and reward your biggest evangelists to increase their participation. They will in turn help you create momentum and spread your message.

3. Amplify your Message

Create an army of evangelists who will tell your story, spread the message and influence their social graphs. The social web helps you get in front of a massive audience but a dedicated community lets you spread the message with even greater reach and influence.

Build awareness for your cause or campaign across the social web using any social network you can, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Make it easy for your advocates to promote your cause with predefined hashtags and shareable content.

Build a campaign hub where you can broadcast online actions which your supporters can then share on their social graphs. Building this hub is like creating a “virtual campaign office” where you can communicate to all your volunteers at once, helping them drive your messages and build momentum for the cause.

4. Remove Barriers to Participation

Letting people participate on their own terms helps build a base of support. Participation comes in many forms, and every dollar, “Like” or signature will push your cause forward. Understanding how different people are motivated will broaden the appeal of your cause.

The first action is often the hardest. Emphasize the importance of low-commitment activities such as “Liking,” +1′ing, or sharing. These, coupled with rewards, can transform passive supporters into more engaged members of the community.

Creating a central and clear call to action is key to getting folks involved in the next level of support. In addition to participation, make fundraising goals and tools a prominent part of your outreach so people can easily — and safely — contribute to your movement.

5. Empower Your Volunteers

Developing brand evangelists is the best way to scale. A volunteer application form on your site, for example, makes it easy for potential supporters to raise their hands. Giving them a space to share experiences, meet new friends and build relationships will build long-term support and commitment.

Set clear expectations on what it means to get involved and what they will receive in return. Keep volunteers in the loop and share how they have played a part in your success. Strengthen your bond with volunteers by sharing photos and videos of the impact they’ve had. Don’t ever forget to say “thank you” and don’t be afraid to shout your appreciation out loud.


Today, the social web offers solutions to make organizing, fundraising and outreach easy for anyone. Building a successful grassroots movement is also about your idea, passion and ability to inspire others to join you in taking action.

What has your community done to inspire positive change? Let us know in the comments below.

Disclosure: The author is a member of the Amplifying Education group, which is hosted on Ning, the author’s company.

Image courtesy of Flickr, neurmadic aesthetic

More About: activism, grassroots, how to, philanthropy, Social Good

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July 15 2011

5 Online Tools For Activists, By Activists

Susannah Vila directs content and outreach at Movements.org, an organization dedicated to identifying, connecting and supporting activists using technology to organize for social change. Connect with her on Twitter @susannahvila.

Why are social networks powerful tools for causes and campaigns? Many times, people begin to engage in activism only after they’ve been attracted by the fun stuff in a campaign — connecting with old friends and sharing photos, for example. When they witness others participating, they’ll be more likely to join the cause. With socializing as the primary draw, it’s become easier for organizers to attract more and more unlikely activists through social media.

But once a campaign reaches its critical mass, activists might think about moving to other platforms made with their needs — especially digital security — in mind. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter will remain standard fare for online activism. But the time is right for niche-oriented startups to create tools that can supplement these platforms. Here are a few worth investigating.

1. CrowdVoice

Similar to the social media aggregating service Storify, but with an activist bent, CrowdVoice spotlights all content on the web related to campaigns and protests. What’s different about it? Founder Esra’a al Shafei says “CrowdVoice is open and anyone is a contributor. For that reason, it ends up having much more diverse information from many more sources.”

If one online activist comes across a spare or one-sided post, he can easily supplement information. Furthermore, campaign participants can add anecdotes and first-hand experiences so that others can check in from afar.

CrowdVoice makes it easier for far-flung audiences to stay abreast of protests and demonstrations, but it also helps organizers coordinate and stay abreast of other activist movements.

2. Sukey

During London’s UK Uncut protests this year, police used a tactic called “kettling,” or detaining demonstrators inside heavy police barricades for hours on end.

In response, UK Uncut activists created a mobile app to help one another avoid getting caught behind the barricades. The tool, Sukey -- whose motto is “keeping demonstrators safe, mobile and informed” — helps people steer clear of injuries, trouble spots and violence.

Sukey’s combination of Google Maps and Swiftriver (the real-time data verifying service from the makers of Ushahidi) also provides a way for armchair protesters to follow the action from afar. Users can use Sukey on a browser-based tool called “Roar,” or through SMS service “Growl.”

3. Off-the-Record Messaging

Off-the-Record” (OTR) software can be added to free open-source instant messaging platforms like Pidgin or Adium. On these platforms, you’re able to organize and manage different instant messaging accounts on one interface. When you then install OTR, your chats are encrypted and authenticated, so you can rest assured you’re talking to a friend.

4. Crabgrass

Crabgrass is a free software made by the Riseup tech collective that provides secure tools for social organizing and group collaboration. It includes wikis, task files, file repositories and decision-making tools.

On its website, Crabgrass describes the software’s ability to create networks or coalitions with other independent groups, to generate customized pages similar to the Facebook events tool, and to manage and schedule meetings, assets, task lists and working documents. The United Nations Development Programme and members from the Camp for Climate Action are Crabgrass users.

5. Pidder

Pidder is a private social network that allows you to remain anonymous, share only encrypted information and keep close track of your online identity -- whether that identity is a pseudonym or not.

While it’s not realistic to expect anyone to use it as his primary social network, Pidder is a helpful tool to manage your information online. The Firefox add-on organizes and encrypts your sensitive data, which you can then choose to share with other online services. It also logs information you’ve shared with external parties back into to your encrypted Pidder account.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, onurdongel.

More About: activism, apps, demonstration, platform, protest, social good, social network, web

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May 23 2011

How Activist Investors Use Social Media to Influence Companies

Patrick Kerley is the Director of Levick Strategic Communications Social & Digital Media Practice. He is also a contributing author to Bulletproof Blog™ and can be found on Twitter @pjkerley and on LinkedIn.

Over the past several years, social media’s impact on global activism has been undeniable. Across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, small bands of like-minded reformers have transformed whisper campaigns into all-out populist movements aimed at altering the political, economic, and societal dynamics at work in some of the world’s most troubled regions.

All the while, however, it hasn’t only been tyrannical leaders and despotic regimes in the crosshairs. Quietly, activist investors have been utilizing social media to overthrow boards, oust embattled CEOs, and reverse well-entrenched business practices at some of America’s most well-known corporations. And when it comes to digital savvy, they are often leaving their freedom-fighter counterparts in the dust.

Strength in Numbers

Take the case of Eric Jackson, who in 2007 held only 96 shares of Yahoo stock and maintained a blog with about eight readers a day. On a whim, he wrote a post about dissatisfaction with CEO Terry Semel’s performance and the need for a management shakeup. His post went viral and struck a chord with other Yahoo investors who shared his sentiments. Before long, he was getting thousands of hits a day, being interviewed on CNBC, and had built a voting bloc of investors representing more than 2.6 million shares in the company (worth approximately $60 million). Not long after that, Mr. Semel stepped down and Mr. Jackson’s online efforts are widely credited as a catalyst in his downfall.

Since then, small investors have taken to Facebook and Twitter to build support for proxy proposals and sites such as Seeking Alpha, StockTwits and Wikinvest have emerged as venues for investors to discuss companies’ valuation potential and social responsibility efforts. Among the most interesting developments is MoxyVote, a social network of corporate shareholders and advocates that aggregates investor proposals, expedites proxy voting, and helps investors support “good causes” in the areas of labor, the environment, animal welfare, and corporate governance, to name a few. Notably, investors in On2 Technologies recently turned to MoxyVote to force Google to increase its bid for the company by 25%.

In the same ways that revolutionaries half a world away are using social media to swell their ranks and consolidate their efforts, small investors are building support for their proposals and reaching a critical mass that companies simply can’t ignore.

It’s Not Just the “Little Guys”

In yet another sign that social media usage has migrated from the basement to the penthouse, the wealthiest investors out there are also utilizing digital communications tools in their bids for control of major corporations.

In a proxy battle against the Lionsgate film studio last year, Carl Icahn (one of the best known activist investors in the world) built a website rife with content supportive of his plan to “save” the film studio. He published a letter to shareholders urging them elect a new slate of directors. He shared developments as they arose. He even included functionality by which investors could vote their shares. Although his effort ultimately failed, he did create a template that is already influencing others.

At the same time, websites such as Affluence.org, Pi Capital and Family Bhive, which calls itself the “Facebook for the Fortunate,” have come online as arenas for the wealthy to engage proprietary networks of similarly affluent investors. On these sites, they can talk to their counterparts, influential financial media, and investment brokerage houses (which in most cases must pay to play) to gain insight into buying decisions and identify under-the-radar investment opportunities.

What Does All This Mean for Investor Relations Professionals?

Last summer, a report issued by Q4 Web Systems found that companies are beginning to understand that they can no longer cede control of the digital conversation to activist investors. According to the data, 93% of public companies are using LinkedIn to conduct shareholder outreach; 65% are using Twitter; 37% are using Facebook; 29% are using YouTube; and 10% make use of a corporate blog for investor relations (IR).

While growing adoption rates certainly connote progress, boards of directors and executive-level management still have much to do if they are going to catch up with those vying for control of their companies.

Due to disclosure rules, the potential for securities litigation, and speed with which information — and, more importantly, misinformation — reaches every corner of the marketplace, IR programs have understandably been among the last corporate functions to fully embrace the social media revolution. But that doesn’t change the fact that activist investors have taken their game to a new playing field — and that those public companies still on the sidelines are putting themselves at a tremendous disadvantage, should a battle for control materialize.

For more lists, how-tos and other resources on this topic, check out Mashable Explore!

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, holicow

More About: activism, business, investment, investors, social media

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May 11 2011

Social Media Fights Ugandan Anti-Gay Legislation

uganda avaaz image

An online petition and social media movement helped save lives in Uganda’s homosexual community following the Ugandan Parliament’s attempt to re-introduce an “Anti-Homosexuality” bill that could sentence LGBT Ugandans to death for “aggravated homosexuality.”

News about the bill broke late last week, and the international community immediately jumped onto social media to sign petitions and protest the bill. AllOut, an organization defending LGBT rights, launched an online appeal to the Ugandan government. Within 30 hours, more than 300,000 people from every country in the world signed the petition with more than 200,000 shares on Facebook and other social media channels.

As of Wednesday morning, the number of signatures totaled more than 450,000. Much of that reach can be attributed to the speed of an engaged social media community: “At last count, we’ve had 1,072,441 pageviews on the campaign and almost 60% of that has come through Facebook and Twitter,” said AllOut co-founder Andre Banks. “What we’re seeing is not an entirely new phenomenon — people have always activated their networks in times of crisis and called them to action. What’s different is the speed and ease that platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow.”

allout image

The AllOut petition was bolstered by Avaaz, a political activism website. The Avaaz petition has received more than 1.25 million online signatures at time of writing.

While the Ugandan Parliament has not issued a direct response to the tremendous international outcry, the Anti-Homosexuality bill appeared to be dropped from the debate agenda, MSNBC reported on Wednesday.

The bill’s author, David Bahati, has said a new version would not contain the death penalty, although no amended version has been publicly released.

A similar anti-homosexuality bill was raised last year but was dropped in part because of tremendous online opposition from the international community. Even though the current bill has been removed from the agenda, homosexuality is a contentious issue for Uganda. In the past year, LGBT Ugandans have been targeted, attacked or sometimes even murdered, with local tabloids running headlines like “Uganda’s Top Homos: Hang Them.”

“Personally, it means a lot to me to know that my brothers and sisters in the USA and Europe and other countries in Africa are in solidarity with us in opposing this bill,” said Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. “Uganda has become the toxic dump for homophobia and it is also their experiment to see how far they can get away with this before the international community becomes concerned. So we need support to counter their lies and misinformation and to stop the madness that has resulted in this proposed bill.”

What do you make of social media’s ability to spur political action? Are these kinds of petitions crucial for galvanizing the social good community? Sound off in the comments.

More About: activism, allout, avaaz, gay, homosexuality, LGBT, petition, social good, social media, Uganda

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April 19 2011

How Immigration Activists Are Fighting Deportation Policy With Social Media

Juan E. Gastelum is Master of Science student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on twitter @juangastelum.

Walter Lara’s first tweet back in 2009 started with the words “I’m being deported.” Two years later, he lives in Miami, works legally, has a driver’s license and pays in-state tuition at Miami Dade College.

He is one of a few dozen young, undocumented immigrants who have avoided deportation and are now enjoying the benefits — even if only temporary — of being in the United States legally as a result of campaigns in which social media played a crucial role.

Social media platforms provide the means by which these youths, who call themselves Dreamers, can find each other without travelling or exposing their status. They appeal to supporters nationwide and petition en masse for extensions on deportation dates. They help garner the attention of politicians, lawyers and advocacy groups. And they get Dreamers’ stories out into the public sphere when the attention of the mass media is elsewhere.

Lara, 25, was two weeks away from being deported when Maria Lacayo, a childhood friend, created a Facebook group called “Keep Walter’s Dream Alive.” On the group’s Page, she explained Lara’s situation: His parents brought him to the U.S. from Argentina illegally when he was only three. He is an honor student, and he would be eligible for legal residence under the Dream Act. She also shared her contact information and linked to her Twitter account.

“I woke up the next morning and I had over 400 emails,” says Lacayo, who became Lara’s impromptu campaign manager.

People she had never met started suggesting courses of action and organizations pledged their support. After an influential child advocacy non-profit posted Lara’s information on its website, the group grew to more than 2,000 members. And a Twitter account created the same day on behalf of Lara accumulated more than 300 followers within hours.

With the help of their followers and several non-profits, the pair jumped onto the mass media’s radar, obtained a letter of support from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, and crashed the switchboard at the Department of Homeland Security on two consecutive days. Three days before he was scheduled to depart, Lara received a yearlong deferment that has since been renewed once.

Dreamers now see Lara’s as a flagship case and have since mimicked and built upon his and Lacayo’s use of social media to halt more deportations.

Alonso Chehade, 24, also faced deportation when he contacted Lacayo only days after Lara’s deferment. He learned what they had done and launched his own campaign in Seattle. Chehade obtained pro-bono legal representation and, with the help of one of the same non-profits, managed to get 5,000 supporters to send in letters to local Congressmen using an online fax service linked to his Facebook Page and personal website. He was granted Temporary Protective Status after Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat in Washington state, introduced a private bill on his behalf.

The most important role of social media, says Chehade, is to demonstrate public sympathy for people in his position. Since his case was resolved, he has dedicated his efforts to unifying online supporters across various platforms.

A large community of pro-immigrant bloggers and organizers started to develop around 2005, says Kyle de Beausset, who curates a Google group in which more than 1,000 active bloggers across the country interact privately online. But platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have made it much easier for young undocumented youth to find each other without necessarily having to expose themselves.

“They were able to get together anonymously, see the numbers that they had and then start building on that,” says de Beausset.

Indeed, several online venues have become the go-to places for young undocumented immigrants facing deportation and empathizers alike. On Facebook, it is a page with more than 88,000 likes called “Dream Act 2010.” And on Twitter, @DreamAct, which is run by activist group DreamActivist.org, has more than 9,000 followers. These venues have proven, as Chehade would put it, the power of organized clicks.

Campaigns usually start with an individual tweet or Facebook status update that alerts the network that someone has been detained or has received notification that he or she will be deported. Hashtags or @messages ensure that those are targeted at the group and known organizers, who then spread the word and start online petitions that are directed at legislators. Videos of the person telling his or her story are often posted on YouTube. At the same time, organizers on the ground work on getting attorneys and setting up rallies. If all these come together successfully, a deportation can be halted.

Rigoberto Padilla, who was granted a reprieve by Homeland Security in 2009 after a similar campaign, says the organization he now volunteers for in Chicago has stopped six deportations since he started there about a year ago. Two other organizations in Washington, D.C., and Maine report comparable numbers.

The two platforms have also centralized online support for the Dream Act — which would benefit all Dreamers — keeping the contentious bill at the forefront of political discussion. In February, for example, the Dream Act 2010 page directed so many votes to YouTube’s World View program that a Dream Act query was presented as the number one question to that month’s guest, Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

Still, Dreamers regard their colossal victories as minimal in comparison to their ultimate goal: to ensure that others in their position — 2.1 million, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute — can stay in the country long enough to see the Dream Act through.

Interested in more Social Media resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Graffizone

More About: activism, facebook, immigration, politics, social good, social media, twitter, youtube

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March 29 2011

HOW TO: Stay Safe When Engaging in Political Activism on Facebook

dove image

Susannah Vila directs content and outreach at Movements.org, an organization dedicated to identifying, connecting and supporting activists using technology to organize for social change. Connect with her on Twitter @susannahvila.

Protests this year in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere have highlighted Facebook’s potential for activism. After all, if the social network were a country, it would the world’s third largest. So if you’re trying to gather a critical mass around an issue it makes a lot of sense to be there.

Using the platform effectively, however, means using it cautiously. This is especially true in repressive environments like Syria, where authorities are currently arresting activists for subversive social media activity. The below tips are relevant for anyone and everyone looking to organize online for social or political change.

1. Take Care of Your Information

Your content and your contacts are on Facebook’s servers; not yours. If your account gets deactivated by mistake or because you violated the company’s Terms of Service, you’ll lose all of this information unless it’s backed up.

Under Account Settings go to: “Download your information,” then “Learn more,” and then click on the download button. You can also get an Adobe Air application called SocialSafe or a Firefox extension called Archive Facebook which downloads your profile, social graph and photos onto your hard drive.

These apps, however, will not download your contacts, so save those somewhere else manually. It’s a tactic used by Egyptian activists running the We Are All Khaled Said page in the weeks before Internet access there was shut off.

2. Use HTTPS

https image

Regular old HTTP (what you likely see right now in the address bar at the top left of your web browser) is unsecured and subject to interception, eavesdropping and surveillance. HTTPS, on the other hand (an acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), makes the transfer of information between your browser and Facebook’s servers a lot safer. Remember that HTTPS does not mean that you will be completely protected, so don’t throw caution to the wind just because you were smart enough to enable it.

Set it as your default by clicking on “Account Security” under “Account Settings” and checking the box under “Secure Browsing” that says “Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible.” While you’re there, and especially if you frequently access the site from Internet cafes, also click the box next to “send me an email when a new computer logs into my account.”

Remember to log out when accessing Facebook from a computer that is not your own.

3. Stay Anonymous Without Getting Kicked Off

facebook image

Facebook groups, pages and events are as helpful for dictators as they are for activists. The site is essentially a Yellow Pages of protest organizers, complete with times and locations for planned demonstrations. This makes it a lot easier to squash those protests and detain whoever was involved. Of course, this is more of a concern in repressive environments but that doesn’t mean that anyone using the platform shouldn’t be aware of and cautious about just how much of their identity can be kept secret without violating Facebook’s Terms of Service.

So what’s in the ToS, anyway? It includes a real name policy prohibiting joiners from using pseudonyms. That said, plenty of people do. The site’s crackdown on these users has been arbitrary and erratic, so if you create a pseudonym on Facebook to protect your identity, avoid getting kicked off by making it a convincing one. Most importantly, have a plan of action in the event that your account does get deactivated.

Part of your plan of action should include learning the ToS so you know whether you violated it as well as how violations get reported (by other users, which can also be abused). If you don’t have time for this, then get in touch with someone who does and who has the time and resources to contact Facebook directly on your behalf.

Editor’s Note: Mashable does not condone the violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service.

4. Anonymity Is More Than Just Your Name

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What other information might identify you? Is your phone number public? Is there a picture of you next to an identifiable landmark in the neighborhood where you live? (You should avoid using an actual picture of yourself as your profile photo in the first place.) What about the people you’ve friended? A close connection on Facebook to someone who has been arrested for political activism, or is involved with a group that you don’t want to be associated with, may get you in trouble, so be careful about who you friend. Monitor your connections with tools that allow you to analyze your networks. For example Friend Wheel or Social Graph.

If Facebook privacy settings have got you confused, remember you can always preview how your profile looks to others and what information you’re exposing by going to Account > Privacy Settings > Customize Settings > Preview my profile (see picture above).

5. Use Facebook So Long As It’s Helpful

Facebook proved a helpful forum for recent movements to gain critical mass, but once enough people hear about your plans, don’t be afraid to take communication offline and to the street. Do as much coordination as possible face-to-face or on other online tools. Some of these have been made by activists for activists, like Crabgrass, which you can download here.

6. Learn From Your Peers

Chances are, this post will be outdated in a matter of months. Why? Because people spying on activists are adapting their online strategies just as quickly as activists are. It’s important to pay close attention to what others around the world are doing to stay safe, and to constantly update your precautionary measures.

Interested in more Social Good resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of Flickr, KOREphotos

More About: activism, activist, facebook, List, Lists, privacy, security, social good, social media, social network

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January 11 2011

Is Twitter a Touchdown for Social Good?

trophy image

On January 29, Twitchange, a digital auction house selling off celebrity Twitter presences for charity, is set to launch a social good campaign championed by NFL star Troy Polamalu. Twitchange lets fans bid on an opportunity to interact with their favorite celebrities on Twitter by having those celebrities follow, mention or retweet them.

Each auction lasts about one month and all money is given to a cause selected by a main celebrity spokesperson. Polamalu, a star safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was selected as the spokesperson for his work on veteran issues. The auction will benefit Operation Once in a Lifetime, a non-profit providing free financial and morale support to U.S. Service members and veterans regardless of rank, deployment, physical condition or branch of service.

The previous campaign was helmed by Eva Longoria in support of building homes in Haiti. With more than 35 million hits, that campaign raised more than $540,000 and garnered support from more than 175 celebrities including Justin Bieber, Shaquille O’Neal and Adrian Grenier.

Twitchange chose Polamalu as its next spokesperson because of his commitment to veteran issues. “Each cause we have needs a spokesperson that believes in it to their core,” said Shaun King, Twitchange’s founder.

The cause hits home for Polamalu. His grandfather, as well as several uncles and cousins have served in the armed forces. “I experience first-hand tragedies, psychological and emotional effects of war through my own family members,” Polamalu said in an e-mail. One of Polamalu’s cousins was deeply affected by “Gulf War Syndrome” upon returning from combat. He eventually died.

Is Social “Good”?

twitchange image

As much as social good is the focus for Twitchange, King acknowledged that “the dirty little secret on Twitter is that everybody wants a celebrity to follow them on Twitter.” However, this gets at one of the criticisms of the new brand of social philanthropy. As Malcom Gladwell said in his oft-cited and more often disputed article on the relative merits of social good:

“The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.”

On some level this is accurate: Social good campaigns like Twitchange are less likely to create revolutionary moments the way high-risk activism, like the civil rights movement, can. Further is the concern that the campaigns are more about the celebrity than the actual charity.

“I think it’s the celebrity first and the charity second,” said Peter Panepento, assistant managing editor for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing but I think people need to recognize that it shouldn’t be a replacement for the other forms of charity.”

Ben Rattray, the founder of Change.org, advocated for the same sense of caution. Non-profits like Twitchange bring a certain “sexiness” to giving, but that same enthusiasm needs to be tempered by a measured perspective on what help Twitchange can offer, especially given the disproportionally higher impact of offline giving.

This, however, overlooks the fairly simple idea that any form of charity is a good form of charity. Perhaps social giving is not “high-risk activism,” but can anyone be faulted for supporting a cause? Both Panepento and Rattray agreed that at the end of the day, campaigns like Twitchange are net positives: raising money, awareness and buzz for worthy causes.


It is possible that some people might participate in the auction just to be close to a celebrity, forgetting the cause behind it. It is equally possible that in doing so, those same people learn about an important issue or continue to support something that they might not have otherwise discovered. “Ultimately we found that most of the people that that bid in Twitchange auctions do so because they believe in the cause and the interaction with celebrities is just a super cool added bonus,” King said.

Causes are given an extra boost by getting celebrities, and their social networks, involved in the campaign. If you have a favorite celebrity, the Twitchange site will actually help you look him up and petition him (via tweet) to sign up to support the cause. “It’s actually pretty brilliant marketing,” Rattray said. “It’s difficult for a celebrity to turn down an opportunity to do good.”

In Polamalu’s case, his drive seems to come more from the heart. Normally soft-spoken, he likes to keep his charity work outside of the public sphere in order to preserve the authenticity of the experience and his efforts. Social media has blown the doors off of that model for this one exception: “Supporting veterans is a worthy cause that deserves publicity because society sometimes forgets the huge impact they’ve made,” Polamalu said. “These people are heroes because they make the ultimate sacrifice for us to enjoy our daily freedoms. An opportunity of this magnitude needs all the publicity it can get.”

Is social good of any kind always a good thing? Are there limitations? What do you make of Twitchange’s model? Let us know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Flickr, StephenMitchell

More About: activism, charity, malcom gladwell, non-profit, philanthropy, social good, troy polamalu, TwitChange, twitter

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October 05 2010

5 YouTube Projects That Are Making a Difference


Yes, we said YouTube, as in, the same platform that Conan O’Brien accused of being responsible for the United States’ economic woes (“We’re all watching monkeys in propeller hats flush themselves down a toilet.”). Despite its sometimes well-deserved reputation as a time-waster, YouTube can actually be an incredibly powerful tool for creating real change.

“The power of YouTube lies in its capacity to create connections,” explains Shawn Ahmed, the activist behind The Uncultured Project. It forms “connections between people and connections between communities [that are stronger] than pen pals, and [stronger] than just exchanging e-mails or Facebook pokes. It’s a way of kind of seeing and connecting visually, auditorily, everything.”

Ahmed’s project is included in our list of YouTube channels that have successfully harnessed the eye-opening power of YouTube and web video for social good.

1. Invisible People

Even after being homeless for a period, Mark Horvath was disturbed by how quickly he became ambivalent toward other people he saw living on the street.

“I find myself looking away, ignoring the faces, avoiding their eyes,” he writes on his project’s website, “— and I’m ashamed when I realize I’m doing it.”

He started InvisiblePeople.tv to give a voice to the more than 1 million homeless people living in the U.S. who are so often ignored. By asking people to share their stories, their wishes for the future, and just a moment of conversation, the project has helped video viewers understand the problem and give homelessness a name.

“It’s affected real change,” notes Horvath in the video above. “Because you guys, the YouTube community, started sharing these videos, there’s been housing programs started and feeding programs started. Literally, people who were sleeping outside slept inside last night because of you guys.”

2. Streetside Stories

Streetside Stories has been bringing literacy initiatives and arts education into under-served San Francisco classrooms and after-school programs for more than 18 years. The organization’s 7th grade program, Tech Tales, teaches students how to turn stories about their lives into short movies. During the month-long production process, the students learn crucial literacy, creative, and technology skills.

The final results — which include stories about changing schools, changing countries, new siblings, best friends and feelings — are proudly published to the YouTube channel.

“One of the intangible things that students get out of this program is that they feel valued,” says retired middle school teacher Audrey Adams in this video. “Streetside makes students feel valued for their lives, for their voices. And that doesn’t always happen every day in every classroom.”

3. I Talk Because…

On World AIDS Day last year, the New York City Council and a handful of HIV/AIDS organizations launched this YouTube campaign to re-start the conversation about AIDS.

“The conversation about HIV/AIDS must be revived, and we need to take this message to the places that people now occupy: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who announced the project. “HIV/AIDS has personally affected me and thousands of New Yorkers and we must get this conversation back to where it used to be.”

About 145 people have uploaded videos that explain why they believe talking about AIDS is important. Most videos start with the phrase “I talk about AIDS because…” but each take a unique approach. Bravo’s Andy Cohen talks about AIDS because “it’s life and death.” Barbara Corcoran talks about AIDS because she has relatives who live with it, colleagues who have died from it, and a teenage son who doesn’t really think about it much. Judy Gold, Al Sharpton, Alan Cumming and numerous other contributors also weigh in.

4. It Gets Better

Sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage launched this project in response to the suicide of a teenager who was bullied about being gay. Members of the LGBT community upload videos that explain how their lives got better after high school. The idea is to reassure teens who are being bullied because of their sexual orientation that the harassment won’t last forever.

“Your life can be amazing,” Savage tells teens in the project’s inaugural video. “But you have to tough this period of it out and you have to live your life so that you’re around for it to get amazing. And it can, and it will.”

5. The Uncultured Project

When Shawn Ahmed started The Uncultured Project project in 2007, his goal was to raise awareness about Global Poverty. “In much the same way that you can video blog about Britney Spears and get a million views, maybe I can video blog in a personal way about global poverty and get people to understand the complexity and engage a lot more people than a conventional charity,” Ahmed says.

He started posting videos about poverty issues as he traveled in Bangladesh, where his parents are from. With each problem, he tried to also focus on a solution. When he made a video about child labor, for instance, he also made a video about a school that helps educate child laborers.

Although Ahmed never intended for the project to be a charity, people saw his videos and wanted to send donations. He often sends Twitpics to the donor so they can see exactly who and how their donations helped. For example, an American woman donated money so a boy in Bangladesh could have clean water.

When Cyclone Aila hit Bangladesh, The Uncultured Project teamed with Save the Children. Ahmed wrote every donor’s name on a relief kit funded by his YouTube audience and sent pictures to the donors.

“I’m able to act like kind of a cultural bridge where one community in Bangladesh can connect to another community in the developed world,” he says. “And they’re helping each other, basically…And that’s something that I think gives this project power.”

More Social Good Resources from Mashable:

- 9 Creative Social Good Campaigns Worth Recognizing [Mashable Awards]
- 3 Small Cause Campaigns That Won Big With Social Media
- Using Film to Change the World
- How Non-Profits Can Rally Support for Online Contests
- How Social Media Helped 174 Million People Get the Message About Malaria

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kaisersosa67

Reviews: Facebook, SEX, Twitter, YouTube, iStockphoto

More About: activism, channel, charity, dan savage, donations, donor, I Talk Because..., Invisible People, it gets better, List, Lists, making a difference, online giving, philanthropy, Shawn Ahmed, social good, social media, Streetside Stories, The Uncultured project, video, web video, youtube

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May 18 2010

Can One Man Communicate Solely Through Social Media for a Month?

As @SilentClark, Clark Harris is communicating solely through social media channels during the month of May to raise money and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Harris started the experiment as a tribute to his mother, Ruth Harris, whose 10-year battle with cancer ended last February. Thinking back to a more traditional fundraising campaign he participated in in 2006, Team in Training Century Ride, Harris began “looking for a bigger challenge to accomplish in her memory.” How could a cause campaign in today’s social media-enabled world compare to a primarily direct mail campaign from only a few years ago?

Soon the concept of SilentClark was born. “What better challenge for a guy who never shuts up than to not talk for a month?” Clark can communicate on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and Google Chat; e-mail, talking, writing, text messaging, and sign language are not allowed — not with friends, not with colleagues, not even with Harris’s wife.

We “met” @SilentClark through Twitter and caught up with him via Facebook to find out more about the Social Media Experiment, how the project is going, and what it’s like to speak only through social media for an entire month.

The Challenges of Social Media Silence

When Clark Harris (pictured, on left) says he was looking to have his “normal life challenged,” he wasn’t kidding. For a guy with a self-professed love of gabbing, going silent except for social media for an entire month is no easy task. “I’m a talker — that’s my primary means of keeping in touch with people. My phone gets a workout while I am driving and I can happily talk for hours on end with various people. If I can’t talk in person, I’d like to do it over the phone.”

So what’s been the biggest challenge thus far? “It sucks to lose something. Before I could just speak when I wanted to speak. Now, I have to find a phone or computer or I’m stuck. It makes being social in public more work.” As a result, a lot of thoughts that would otherwise be conveyed get dropped. “It’s too much effort to tweet a response to everything. My percentage of talking to listening has completely reversed.”

Harris says that being involved in the technology world professionally has helped the project along significantly. Without an existing network there, “it would be nearly impossible to get through it. I’ve been able to chat, tweet [and] Facebook message with everyone because all the people I deal with are in that world now. Just a year ago, I don’t think this would have been possible.”

The intense and frequent dependency on technology to mediate communication has been one of the major hurdles during the experiment, which Harris refers to as the Delay Factor. “The times I need to talk most are ones when the Delay Factor is really apparent. Times when my wife really wants to talk about something or when we both get frustrated and have to wait on the iPhone to load for me to be able to convey a response. We’ve just had to bite the bullet and flex our patience.”

Reactions to the Social Media Experiment

Face-to-face silence introduces an inevitable wild card into every in-person meeting with a stranger. How would people react? How would friends and family deal with a month of social media-only communication? Harris says the reactions have by and large been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s amazing to see how quickly people adapt,” he marveled.

Despite being shocked by the idea at first, friends, family and co-workers quickly grew supportive. “I’ve been pleased with the words of encouragement and with people telling me it’s an ‘honorable’ or ‘inspiring’ endeavor.” As the online world has learned of the Social Media Experiment, strangers have been supportive as well. “I’ve had a great response from people I don’t know. Some retweet me with personal messages, others send encouraging words, and some even donate.”

In person, things get a bit more challenging. “At times they think that I am actually mute, so I have to tell them that this is a choice and not a disability. When I tell them it’s a fundraiser for leukemia in memory of my mother, it’s the same response as above, they are taken aback.” In the face-to-face world though, most of the encounters aren’t with social media natives, so even the nature of the experiment itself requires “a little more explaining.” He carries around a card for just such encounters that reads: “I CAN’T TALK! Why? www.socialmediaexperiment.com — How can we communicate? You talk. I respond via Twitter @SilentClark.”

How is Social Media Conversation Different… Or Is It?

We wanted to know if the types of communication possible through social media made day-to-day conversations radically different, or whether the nature of a personal connection tends to foster a similar way of relating across different social media channels. “I have not seen a big shift from my friends to adapt to speaking to me,” says Harris. On the flip side, a month “may be too short” to spot those kinds of shifts.

“Before the SMX, there were people that I would only Gchat with. Obviously those people have been the easiest to communicate with. I have found myself on Facebook Chat more than before, but that is because I check Facebook more often and crave conversation. Chat is really my only way to talk to people in a semi conversational way. Tweeting someone may or may not result in a timely reply.”

Work, somewhat surprisingly, has changed very little: “My business partner and I chat more than we talk in our office, even though we are in the same room, so the SMX has not changed that at all.”

Overall, “conversations on the whole, across all mediums, have gotten much shorter. I have not had a solid 30-60 minute ‘chat’ with anyone, including my wife since April.”

Social Media Versus Traditional Cause Campaigns

How has the Social Media Experiment compared to the 2006 direct mail fundraising campaign Harris completed just a few short years ago? “My reach is much wider by using social media. I’ve had people from Asia and Europe show their support through sending me encouraging words and spreading information about my endeavor to their followers. In 2006 I didn’t have any strangers offering their support.”

Harris also hopes to maintain longer connections with some of the supporters he’s been able to meet through the Social Media Experiment. He’s since lost touch with the other members of the 2006 campaign. “It is yet to be determined if any of the relationships I’m developing here with the SMX will pass the test of time. I hope they will.”

Financially, although the campaign is still ongoing through the month of May, it’s already eclipsed the 2006 direct mail fundraiser. “In terms of donations and raw dollars, the passive donations are crushing what I did in 2006. I didn’t have any strangers donate, and already I’ve had several people donate who I have no affiliation.”

Harris credits much of this to the advent of social media tools and the establishment of an online identity. “Now I have a proper online identity and people have the ability to get to know SilentClark Harris far better than the 2006 Clark Harris.”

How You Can Help

There are a number of ways to help SilentClark achieve his goals in the Social Media Experiment. He hopes to encourage 20,000 individuals to contribute a nominal $5 donation. Head over to the Ways to Help section of the SMX website and click the “Donate Now” button to add your contribution.

You can also follow @silentClark on Twitter, friend SilentClark Harris on Facebook, and “Like” the Silence Cancer Page on Facebook. Whether or not you are able to donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, do consider helping to spread the word about the Social Media Experiment.

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Reviews: Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube

Tags: activism, cancer, interviews, leukemia, silentclark, SMX, social good, social media experiment

May 17 2010

Nestle Meets Greenpeace’s Demands Following Social Media Backlash

Today Nestle announced a “zero deforestation” policy in partnership with The Forest Trust (TFT), which will initially focus on amending its palm oil purchasing practices. The move follows a full blown Facebook attack initiated by Greenpeace earlier this year.

Eight weeks ago, Greenpeace UK released a provocative YouTube video calling into question Nestle’s methods for acquiring palm oil. Greenpeace claims that the company’s practices contribute to rainforest deforestation and used YouTube as a platform to shock viewers with a video that likens eating a Kit Kat to eating an orangutan (the graphic video is embedded below).

The video caught the attention of Nestle, who had it removed from YouTube and consequently incited Greenpeace to rally the troops to call, send emails and leave chastising comments on Nestle’s Facebook Page. The situation created by the cacophony of updates worsened after a Nestle representative threatened to delete any comments by users whose profile pics included an altered version of the Nestle logo.

What followed is quite remarkable from a social media standpoint, and has much to do with Nestle’s more aggressive plan to alter its palm oil practices. Greenpeace U.K. touts, “With nearly 1.5 million views of our Kit Kat advert, over 200,000 emails sent, hundreds of phone calls and countless Facebook comments, you made it clear to Nestle that it had to address the problems with the palm oil and paper products it buys.”

Nestle is most certainly changing its tune, and its partnership with The Forest Trust means that Greenpeace can go after its next target, HSBC.

[img credit: Greenpeace U.K.]

[via CNET]

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Tags: activism, facebook, greenpeace, nestle

May 07 2010

PETA: Pit Bulls and “Mafia Wars” Don’t Mix

Animal rights activists were none too happy with Zynga’s use of pit bulls as weapons in the popular Mafia Wars Facebook game. After sending a letter to CEO Mark Pincus, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) scored a victory: CNET reports that the game’s maker has pulled the dogs out of the game’s weapons arsenal.

PETA’s argument is that depiction of a domestic animal as an attack dog could lead to real-life abuse of pit bulls, who are already the most abused breed of dog. Although the organization acknowledges that “it’s just a game,” it felt the Mafia Wars depiction glorified the type of cruelty to animals that owners engage in when trying to “toughen up” their pit bulls.

PETA reports it is “sending vegan chocolates to Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus to thank him for his compassionate decision” to remove the dogs from the title. What do you think: Is this an important symbolic victory or much ado about virtual-ly nothing?

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Tags: activism, animals, casual games, facebook, facebook games, games, Mafia Wars, social gaming, Zynga

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