Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

by Deanna Zandt

Reviewed by Michael Connor

On Tuesday of last week, U.S. basketball superstar LeBron James opened a Twitter account in anticipation of his wildly-hyped announcement regarding which NBA team he’d be playing for in coming years.  By noon Wednesday, James reportedly had 235,000 followers on Twitter.

mandala_colorJames did well, but he’s still a far cry from basketball’s Shaquille O’Neal, who is nearing the 3-million mark in terms of Twitter followers.  And both ballplayers trail entertainers Britney Spears (with 5.28 million Twitter followers), Ashton Kutcher (5.21 million), Ellen DeGeneres (4.28 million) and Lady Gaga (4.81 million).

To Deanna Zandt, a media technologist and consultant to progressive media organizations, while huge numbers like that may constitute success for mass media icons and idols, they mask the real potential of social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to change the world.

“So-called popularity does not make these folks automatically interesting or relevant,” she writes in her new book, Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. “Bigger used to be better, but now effective is better.”

Whether it be parents of students in Palm Beach County, Florida, successfully organizing a Facebook page to protest new academic programs, or the 2008 Obama campaign’s masterful use of social media to organize and fundraise, Zandt says the point is the same: “How we share information, find community, and both connect and disconnect will give us unprecedented influence over our place in the world.”

Facebook now claims more than 400 million active users, with more than 50 percent of those users logging in on any given day.  Earlier this year Twitter was estimated to have 75 million accounts, though reports indicated a slowing in growth of new accounts.

By connecting disparate individuals across great distances, social media networks represent a dramatic change for institutional authority.  “It’s turning a whole lot of institutions – businesses, legislative bodies, traditional media – upside down,” Zandt  says.

And while she acknowledges an important ongoing role for old-fashioned newsgathering, Zandt argues that social networkers have a hard time “tolerating the old demands of one-to-many messaging – ‘This is what’s good for you, and you’ll just have to trust us.’”

But the social media revolution hasn’t yet arrived for millions of Americans, Zandt notes, largely because high-speed Internet is not available to them.   While 63 percent of all Americans now have broadband Internet service, for example, only 46 percent of African-American homes do.

And that disparity highlights a critical danger for social media. “Diversity in the social network sphere is critical for generating fresh perspectives on old problems, to help us avoid replicating on the Internet what we’ve done for hundreds of years – marginalizing or otherwise ignoring voices that can share ideas for systemic change,” Zandt writes.

If you’re a skeptic who wonders why there’s so much noise these days about Facebook and Twitter, this book will challenge your thinking. While Zandt explains upfront that she does not mean it to be “the End-All-Be-All Activist’s Guide to Fixing Everything with Social Networking,” she does a good job of explaining enough of the nuts-and-bolts to make you appreciate the current reality as well as the potential of social media networks for achieving social justice (as well as spreading the news that LeBron James is headed to the Miami Heat).

“The commitment to sharing our experiences with one another supports and strengthens our bonds,” Zandt says, “and we are our own best hope for changing the world.”