Megan Weintraub oversees Oxfam’s work with social media and online advocacy.
It may seem strange, given the focus of my job, but I arrived late to Facebook. When I first considered joining, it seemed like a grand experiment in narcissism rather than a good use of my energy, and certainly not a tool for social change. Eventually, I caved when my niece was born and the photos went up. All of a sudden, I had a reason to join my friends and their friends in this bizarre space of “likes” and “wall posts.”
As a fellow Facebook skeptic, I understand Malcolm Gladwell’s critique of social media in his recent New Yorker article “Small change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.” Gladwell challenges the notion that social media tools like Facebook and Twitter can create social change, pointing to several examples of our misguided assessment of their role in major global events like the protests in Moldova and Iran in 2009. His conclusions have sparked a public debate about the ways we use social media to educate and motivate supporters.
While working at Oxfam, I have collaborated with others to take advantage of the speed and scale of social media. We’ve organized events, posted videos highlighting the work of our partners, and updated supporters about Oxfam’s emergency response to the Haiti earthquake. These examples share more than space on the Oxfam America Facebook wall. They also demonstrate how “weak ties,” the connections between people who may never shake hands or share a meal, can bring supporters closer to social change taking place on the ground.