Connecting Social Capital to Social Change

                It is our wish to leave you off on a positive note, so breaking with character and form this next section discusses two strong social work born methods that can be combined to instigate social change: advocacy and empowerment.


                By changing social norms and etiquette in the performative realm of Facebook policy makers and teachers can help to reinforce change.  Clearly the communication process that takes place on Facebook too often resembles debate and not dialogue.  Communications and dialogue classes could begin to teach students how to employ the dialogic process online by starting with face to face training and then later challenging students to migrate discourse to blogs and message boards.  In stride with this author’s previous stance on Facebook, adults, especially educators need to be the change they wish to see and fully understand and participate in the digital realm, including Facebook.  The recent influx of older adult and global populations that use the site for social networking, marketing research, and application development is a testament to the possibility.  Late adopters need to face up to the challenge and get out there because every moment they spend avoiding it puts them at a greater disadvantage.  Education ought to include cutting edge technologies and communication tools, and this doesn’t mean the fastest hardware or operating system.  Social technologies like wikis and social networking have countless potential beneficial uses in the classroom.  Sociology in particular, a discipline that prides itself on the study of social movements and social capital, ought to take heed of Facebook’s popularity and shift time and research to consider its impacts.
                Administrative policy changes present another avenue for advocacy on Facebook.  The Facebook company itself has become a sort of governing authority that maintains a mostly friendly relationship with its users.  The revolts against the newsfeed and Beacon made it quite clear – with enough momentum Facebook users can really alter the fundamentals of the system.  Facebook has already taken a positive step in banning hate speech, and allows users to active enforce it through easy to find reporting modules.  Administrators and educators, once immersed and involved in the system, can use these same mechanisms to encourage proper behavior while remaining anonymous.  Facebook itself could also take a stance on the importance of racial identity in its interface and introduce a race/ethnicity category.  Finally, publicity efforts such as Inclusive Illinois could adopt Facebook systems in some of the same ways advertisers have.  Just like old generations had to learn how to use computers it’s now time the current late-adopter remainder learns how to properly use social computing technologies.


                Empowerment, or the act of enabling of persons to the point where they have the power to act and enable others on their own, is another viable method of social change.  Clearly Facebook doesn’t have enough friendly and familiar spaces for anti-chief members.  Perceptions are one of the strongest agents of prevention when it comes to dealing with the digital divide, and Facebook will increase in perceived usefulness and ease of use the more it becomes friendly for people of minority identification.  Really this sort of change can include implicit institutionalized alterations, like the addition of a racial category, or also individual motivated methods, like classes that teach students how to create Facebook applications to fuel their social causes.  More than anything the anti-chief side of student life needs a stronger representation online – not one bent on domination but one founding on education and opportunity that stands a chance at truly altering attitudes and teaching others how to pass on what they learn.  The Networked Capital side of social capital lies in the personal connections between friends and families – and the more of this on Facebook the better chance it has of facing off against the powerful hegemonic mass.  Groups could also use Facebook’s networking capabilities to unify their causes, political and otherwise, in ways never really accomplished before.  The May 5th protests remain a solid proof of concept but organizations could place more emphasis on such tasks.  Facebook offers a great way to challenge traditional authority arrangements as well as provide resources for self help.  Stakeholders and adaptive management (leaders) can work simultaneously together to achieve satisfactory results. Groups, especially ones related to social justice, are often in sore need of technical persons like web designers1 and this is where empowerment comes in.  Groups and individuals have to empower each other to know how to use the SNS and properly engage with one another, as well as the opposition, in the space.
                Lastly these efforts must be continuously evaluated for effectiveness, sustainability, scalability and diffusion, accountability, and stakeholder involvement (everyone who benefits from the change).  Leaders should pay special attention to the role of individuals including innovators, idea generators, and carriers and overall remain effective at integrating and deploying resources. Typically this means starting small and growing from there – only involving the most motivated.  And of course, on a final note of the importance of sociology, we must understand our audience from an ethnographic perspective and build respect (credentials) all while listening carefully to their views to best take into account opinions and establish solutions.
                Facebook is a powerful and important space.  Educators and anti-chief advocates can use this power too.  Here’s to being the change…

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[1] Even though management of a Facebook group is really something a trained monkey can do… the barriers to entry are almost non-existent, all it takes are good content management and communication skills plus a little dedication.