Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

After the occupation of Complexo do Alemão in November 2010 – until then considered one of the “most dangerous” favelas of Rio – there is an increased interest from actors (public, private and non-profit) outside of the community. Especially digital technologies play an important role in this process. Community residents have recognised the interest from the media, large companies and the state in reporting about the local reality and doing “social work”. The favela has become pop.

For the group of adolescents Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, and some other community residents active on Twitter, the Internet connects their community, to which the media until the occupation had very limited access, with the outside world. They want to communicate an alternative image, different than the usual image of violence, criminality and poverty. At the same time, they try to link to several (big) actors from outside (particularly Globo, Coca Cola, Santander (a private bank), AfroReggae (a NGO/social business)) to disseminate their information. Simultaneously, they try to establish partnerships with those companies, in order to get subsidies or donations.

Another initiative – by Rene Silva, the guy who got famous after reporting via Twitter about the invasion in November 2010 – is the recently launched portal A Voz das Comunidades (The Communities’ Voice). The portal reports about events, issues and actualities in several communities. In this way, the voice of the communities is connected, producing content autonomously. The residents of several communities produce content which is edited by Rene and his team (Gabriela and Renato, both collaborators of Rene’s journal Voz da Comunidade).

Today more than ever is the time for companies to invest in the favelas, areas that are now accessible and provide an enormous potential in terms of consumption. More than the public sector, big companies lie in wait to sponsor social/cultural projects. The group Descolando Ideias has already won a prize during an event sponsored by Santander, and are now moving into the direction of using this interest in order to guarantee the inclusion/entrance of these companies in the community through publicity, simultaneously informing the community residents about the services, products and opportunities (jobs) these companies offer.

Thus, they use big companies to survive and to be able to make a living, and simultaneously they try to achieve social change. For instance, they produced an item on excessive amounts of garbage and the week after the municipality cleaned that particular area. Furthermore, after a couple of critical posts at the portal on abandoned playgrounds and holes in the streets authorities came to have a look. In this way, their communication articulates actors and events inside the community with the outside world.

I observe how they try to maintain an “own” identity, representing the community, but at the same time the desire to be “included”, to establish links with actors outside of the favela. On the one hand they tend to communicate a “community identity”, through for instance the portal. Changing the image of the favela, bringing to the forth the positive side. However, whether positive or negative, the idea of the favela as separated from the rest of society is in this way reinforced. On the other hand, their links with big companies, the public sector, the media and NGOs in a way tear down this imaginary wall that used to divide two societies. In this way, these actors “ideologically” enter the community, while simultaneously this group of community residents tries to go beyond the boundaries of their community. That is, through linking to other actors (@Santander_br, @Cocacola, @sergiocabralrj) they claim a space to make their voice heard and they virtually expand their territory (the favela).

It’s interesting how new digital technologies change the way in which community residents have a voice. The Internet certainly offers possibilities for Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, a tool they didn’t have before. Also, the “pacification” has definitely played a role, as the media has pointed their eyes on the favela, and thus discovered these adolescents. Complicated, however, is the fact that the majority of the residents in Complexo do Alemão (still) uses Orkut and MSN, which excludes them from participation in this “debate” and limits the community’s access to this information. That is, Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade report on local – everyday – events focused on an audience outside of the favela, and simultaneously (especially Descolando Ideias) on the distribution of useful information inside the community. For instance: A new filial of private bank Bradesco has been inaugurated in Grota, one of the communities of the Complexo. This is necessary, as many residents aren’t aware of this and still go to other, more distant, neighbourhoods to pay their bills. But unfortunately, few residents access Twitter, Facebook and the group’s blog and therefore miss this information. A very amusing idea by one of the girls of Descolando Ideias is to take the streets with their laptops and create Facebook and Twitter accounts for anyone who passes by, thus increasing the inclusion of these residents in their activities. Besides the fact that people don’t know about these channels of information, this kind of community media is also devalued by the residents. The mass media (TV, Radio) still have a much bigger influence than new media. Yesterday in a discussion about the work of Voz da Comunidade and the portal someone mentioned that some residents prefer to send their stories to the mass media (f.i. Globo) than to the platform, thinking that the latter won’t have any effect. They also commented about some cases in which people don’t know Rene in person, but through a reportage on TV. This is an interesting – though not ideal – way in which the information distributed by these adolescents through the Internet returns to the residents of their community.

I see a very important role for these communicators, as something that is seriously lacking in the community is information. There isn’t any channel of information that informs the community about issues such as the replacement of the army by the UPP, the inauguration of the cable car, the opening of a new bank, which are all events that affect the residents in their everyday life. I think it’s a crime to keep people ill-informed about events that have profound impact on their lives (such as for instance the replacement of the army by the UPP (peace police)!), not to mention the fact that they usually don’t have a voice in the decision-making processes regarding such events/issues. The other day a functionary of the State Secretary of Human Rights came to inform the residents about their rights. She read out loud the rights listed in the UN declaration of Human Rights to the audience, but it struck me that she forgot to mention the Right to Information, which is seriously violated in the community. For now, however, Twitter and Facebook might not be the most adequate ways to disseminate information inside the community, and simultaneously, residents often don’t want to exchange Globo and its novelas for community media. Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, on the other hand, contribute to a different image of Complexo do Alemão, which in relation to an earlier post on the negative image of the favela, is very important.

During my time in the uVolunteer office I was asked to look for ways to improve the company’s online visibility. Because I was especially interested in other NGO’s and similar initiatives I was surprised by the way these companies made use of Twitter. Twitter seemed to have created a little world of its own where you could start up new initiatives, get in touch with people in the field and have immediate access of information all in the Twitter way. Therefore, I was, and still am interested in how Twitter changes the environment for Grassroots organizations.

Especially on the grassroots level, marketing seems to be an infinite stumbling stone due to a lack of money or expertise. In a blog post by Siena Anstis for the Worlbank, she points out how Twitter is a cheap and multi-way tool to publicize corporations. Twitter in that matter provides new ways to engage and cater to the right audience and at the same time also lets you reflect on your own business. You can update your audience immediately when changes are implemented, and at the same time, they can react and tell you when something is bothering them or give you advice. Especially for grassroots organizations and companies covering a niche work field, Twitter offers the possibility to find like minded people and discuss and compare problems. At uVolunteer for example, I was once putting up posts about a turtle conservation project. A member of another turtle conservation project then contacted me over Twitter with the request to work together. From that point on we kept in touch and managed to combine some services.

But engagement goes further than that. The uncultured project for example uses Twitpics to show the donors where the money goes and how it is spent. Twitter therefore also provides a way to maintain transparency between the organization and its donors. Other than for example the website, you can react immediately to projects and tweets and I believe that it possibly narrows the distance between donors and organizations.

Another way in which Twitter is used for the good is online donations. When the earthquake hit Haiti, the Red Cross was said to have smartly and successfully used Twitter to draw attention to the cause. Like the case in Iran, lots of other media drew attention to the ‘revolution’ Twitter had brought about. By offering possibilities to donate online, support funds were said to have skyrocketed! The question we should ask ourselves here though is: compared to what? The red Cross in general only received 3,6 percent of their actual donations through online media in 2009. Not directly a revolution I would say. The act of donating seems to disappear compared to the amount of tweets and retweets on the matter. In her post: Why Social media is reinventing activism, Sarah Kessler mentions the term ‘Slacktivism’, “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” Differently said, we tweet and moreover, retweet to feel better about ourselves and have the feeling we did in some way engage. Also, one of my fellow students, Onur Yilmaz criticized the impact Twitter really had on the so called revolution in Iran. Isn’t it all a setup? Are we all tricked into believing Twitter is the new kid on the block? On the other hand, new applications will continue to develop and Social Media specialist Beth Kanter already mentioned the Twitpay application where you can donate online in just one tweet. She is positive on the idea that Twitter can make a difference in for NGO’s on a marketing level and will hold the future of online donations in 2012. Although I agree on the idea that payments online are getting easier and perhaps even more popular, I think the same counts for scam. Most people are afraid to do payments online and who’s there to blame? The amount of fake fundraisers will grow once the online payment methods breach.

Maybe more interesting about this new way of engaging with your donors and partners is the effect of immediacy. The reason the Haiti campaign was so successful is possibly because all the information was immediate. People on the spot were tweeting and looking for interaction about the situation and putting up photos. Therefore, Twitter was probably a better provider of the situation than the regular news channels.

Concluding, I would say that Twitter provides a platform where grassroots organizations can build a new type of relationship with their beneficiaries, partners and critics. It offers a way to maintain transparency, but maybe more importantly immediacy. In disaster situations, it certainly helps when someone on the spot can tell you what’s going on. Unmediated and uncensored. Though using Twitter for non-profits as a way to raise money is still a little Utopian. There are new ways and of course it is always nice to have an extra source of income, but we should be careful in our enthusiasm to directly name Twitter the new donation machine. We are just not there yet…