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A Good Virus: Social Media Storytelling

| November 15, 2010

National governments are not the only means for sparking change, as this year's Omega Institute Women and Power Conference emphasized.  Author and media producer Kathleen Sweeney asked participants how activists can develop their power through social media.

The 2010 Omega Institute’s Women and Power Conference cast “a call-out to women of all ages and backgrounds to become the leaders we have been waiting for.” With governments seemingly mired in bureaucracy and corruption, women all over the world are responding with innovative, activist solutions that are redefining power. They are no longer waiting for permission to lead, and they are using the tools of social media to propagate their messages.

During the conference, five innovative change-makers answered my questions about the ways we can redefine global leadership through storytelling via social media. What follows are seeds of wisdom gleaned from these conversations.

Can social media help women leverage global power? 

Lateefah Simon, MacArthur fellow, executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

It’s time to make our own media and not wait for someone to come around with a camera and microphone. Social media can retool the language by making sure that voices are heard—from children to the elderly. Social media can be the way to access truth and not the propagandized truth. Truth takes on a whole new definition. It’s an exciting time.

Akaya Windwood, president of the Rockwood Leadership Institute

It depends who has access. It could be a potent force toward re-languaging and re-imagining power but it needs to be in the right hands. It can absolutely change the discourse of power in this country and in the world.

Nina Simons, co-founder of the Bioneers Conference and author of Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart

Being around people who are committed and courageous, taking risks and succeeding has helped me to believe in my own capacity to do all those things. I’ve been a living laboratory of mirror neurons, learning by other people’s example.

We need to share our stories with each other—and use technology to show who we are, to listen and learn to care deeply.

Amy Richards, co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation, author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself and co-author of Manifesta

Before we fully promote social media as our next or most important ally we need to make sure people know how to ask, ‘Is that true? Am I sure that’s right?’ and empower them to question it in the way we question sources like the New York Times. We have to have that same discernment when it comes to social media.

Mainstream media often amplifies opposition, polarizing dialogues. How do you deal with opposition?

Marianne Schnall, journalist, founder of Feminist.com and author of Daring to Be Ourselves

There is so much manufactured opposition in the media. Don’t respond back with negativity. Having hateful or judgmental thoughts tends to be toxic to ourselves. If you can convey empathy and compassion, the opposition doesn’t have anywhere to go. It just ends there.

Akaya Windwood

I recently made a commitment to have no enemies and it’s been one of the most interesting and challenging exercises I’ve had for awhile.

I would ask more women to not be distracted by the very loud oppositional voices. We need to be focused and clear about our own business.

Amy Richards

Opposition from people whom I don’t agree with is easy because I know that we won’t ever see the world the same way.

Lateefah Simon

Building bridges is a challenge. It’s about finding unifying messages, and there are unifying messages. It takes one leader to figure out how to bring folks together on the playground in a different way.

Nina Simons

I’m learning to meet opposition like nature does. It spirals, it doesn’t square off. When you pour cold milk into hot coffee, it makes a swirl. Or when the ocean waves push against seaweed, it spirals. I’m trying to learn to spiral.

Akaya Windwood

The biggest tool is empathy. We’ve got to be willing to step out of ourselves. Practically speaking, that looks like, “Let me listen. And then let me be authentic and tell you my story,” If we can find ways to cross those very powerful barriers, in fact insist upon it, then we can change the world, I believe, in our lifetime. 

How can women leverage social media to create ”good news viruses”—messages that spread and empower people to act?

Akaya Windwood

We all need good news. If we’re thoughtful about it, social media could change the way people feel about being alive.

People are doing amazing things all the time. We just never hear about it. So if I’m getting constant messages that people are doing amazing things, then it’s much more likely that I am going to put my energy and my brilliance and my heart into things that bring about goodness and positivity into the world.

Nina Simons

We need leadership at every level, in every sector, in every way, from all of us. We’re dealing with a legacy that has created false separation amongst many, many of us. We don’t have time for those silos any more. The world is a wholesystem, and we need each other in order to change it. We’re going to need us all to turn this ship. 

Amy Richards

Just knowing sometimes that I’m not alone, it restores my power. I think that sometimes when I get to a disempowered place it’s when I feel alone and isolated. So to snap out of that, I remind myself of the community I have.

Marianne Schnall

There’s so many great groups, and so many communities online that are sprouting up around positive change. It isn't in traditional media, so it's a place where you can just feed yourself with those positive messages and wonderful organizations doing good things and figure out how you can be a part of it.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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