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Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.
In the good ol’ USA it’s no surprise to anyone that the Internet has transformed power dynamics. In some respects, it took the Internet to push out the old guard and bring in the new—and the first minority president in the history of our nation. Obama had four times the number of Facebook supporters compared to McCain. He also had 24 times the number of Twitter followers and three times the number of website visitors to his site in the final weeks of the campaign. Voters watched 15 million hours of Obama video on YouTube and his campaign regularly emailed approximately 13 million people and received of course half a billion dollars in online donations. The Washington Post termed this the “YouTube Presidency.”
The revolutionizing of revolutions is not only an American phenomenon; it has quickly become a critical catalyst behind collective action throughout the world. Interestingly these Internet savvy activists are using tools not designed initially or intended for these purposes, but they are powerful tools nonetheless with regards to social action, labor action and really any kind of collective action. In its article, Revolution, Facebook-Style, the New York Times reported recently about how these Web 2.0 tools have been adopted for Jihad but also to protest dictatorial leaders in police states. As the Internet improves at exponential rates, so too will the way it is harnessed for the sake of power and influence. It will be used for forces of good and forces of bad.
Similarly the Economist wrote recently about how online protest spontaneously emerged after the Greek police shot a young boy, facilitated by an online-enabled self-organization.
Activism does not only affect those in political power, but also big business. In 2007, the first virtual strike was organized in Second Life and caused IBM’s CEO of Italy to resign and the workers to gain better terms in their union negotiations. See the video below.
Labor strikes, PR scandals and government regulation are all examples of non-market threats that are recognized as a major business risk in today’s economy. Billions of dollars are spent in this industry every year. As the nature of this threat transforms itself and grows more daunting with the adoption of new social software technologies and the saturation of internet penetration, business will need to react. Social protest and advocacy is evolving at a similar pace as well threatening those in political power. They will need to embrace this phenomenon as quickly as those without power.
Existing tools and future Web tools yet to have emerged are not going to be used only for insurgents trying to overrun those in power: a tool for revolutionaries. They are utilities whose fundamental value is to help crowds emerge into organized campaigns deployed as a force by the organizers, be it those in power or those seeking greater influence. However, because crowd-sourcing is most effective when voluntary, those businesses, organizations or governments looking to do so better be in the right. They better have such great products and such good policies that their supporters and evangelists are willing to hit the e-streets. One more point for democracy!
Lloyd Nimetz founded the online giving market HelpArgentina.org. While pursuing his MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Nimetz has focused on for-profit business models that address social challenges. This summer he will launch a payments platform for India’s bottom billion.