What color is the social web?

9 years ago

A few weeks ago, I conducted a workshop for the Kellogg Action Lab College of Consultants.  The participants were consultants who worked with nonprofits on organizational strategic planning, financial planning, evaluation, and other organizational capacity areas.  It was a fantastic opportunity to learn what types of questions are raised about social media in the context of strategic planning with nonprofits. 

This group kept me on my toes.  I got hit with a question that I could not answer on the spot - a very good question.  When I'm asked questions that I don't know the answer to, I admit it and use it as opportunity to demonstrate the value of the social brain or having a good network on Twitter.  Unfortunately, I did not have my laptop accessible in that moment.

In reflection, I've been thinking about how much richer it is being social - how you don't have to know all the answers when you have a good network (and a decent Internet connection.)   It made me think about another digital divide - for those who don't have the Internet connection or haven't yet engaged on Twitter - the knowledge divide.

The question I was asked had to do with the demographics of social media.  How many people of color participate?   The question came from a diversity consultant while we were discussing how young people today are being brought up on social networks AND some statistics about age and email/social network use.  I referenced Liza Sabater's Brown Bloggers meetups, but could not point to any studies or stats.   The consultant also pointed out that flickr photo I used seemed to indicate that the percentage are low. 

So, once I got home, I put a question out to my Twitter network.  Here's a roundup of what I learned:

Someone in my network said I should contact Carmen Van Kerckhove who told me:

I'm afraid I don't know any studies that specifically address POCs using social media, but there have been a lot of articles about bloggers of color and how they're rising to prominence.   No real hard data in them though, more trend/zeitgeist-type analysis.

She sent me these links - and I've excerpted some points from the articles - most interesting is the point about new generation of civil rights activists, using social media.

Blog is Beautiful

Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander-American, and black bloggers . . . often these bloggers discard the
handcuffs of their ethnic origins to tackle subjects affecting a range
of racial or ethnic groups.

These blogs - many of which launched

in the past year, although a few are older - have become places where
people of color gather to refine ideas or form thoughts about race
relations, racial inequities, and the role pop culture has in
exacerbating stereotypes. The writers often bring attention to subjects
not yet covered by mainstream media.

Black Activists Go Blogging To Challenge the Status Quo

Yet despite their demonstrated influence, black bloggers—many have
professional day jobs as attorneys, accountants and technology
workers—find themselves struggling for respect from the mostly-white
liberal blogging establishment, which rarely picks up black blog

Blogs Help Drive Jena Protest

But many black bloggers say the Jena demonstration is really more about
a new generation of civil rights activists who learned about the Jena
case not from Operation Push but from hip-hop music blogs that featured
the story or popular black entertainers such as Mos Def who have turned it into a crusade.

"In traditional civil rights groups, there's a pattern—you call a

meeting, you see when everybody can get together, you have to decide
where to meet," said Shawn Williams, 33, a pharmaceutical salesman and
former college NAACP leader who runs the popular Dallas South Blog.

"All that takes time," Williams added. "When you look at how this civil

rights movement is working, once something gets out there, the action
is immediate—here's what we're going to write about, here's the
petition, here's the protest. It takes place within minutes, hours and
days, not weeks or months."

This new, "viral" civil rights movement now taking shape still benefits

from the participation of well-known leaders like Jackson or
Sharpton—it just doesn't depend on them, bloggers say.

One of my Twitter followers, @persistance pointed me to Shireen Mitchell (aka @digitalsista) who is moderating a session at BlogHer, DC about online community building for political action.    She notes that it is difficult to find that precise information as data about people of color is often missing from social networking studies.

Shireen shared some links to various studies that provide pieces of the answer.

  • Black Online Study profiles African American heavy internet users - mostly male and and economics play a role. 
  • Digital Networkers profiles African American heavy social networking site users
  • Twitter Poll - “Which issue is bigger to you? Gender gap/social media, race/social
    media, poverty gap/social media or generation gap/social media.”
  • Niche Online Social Networks - stats on black planet and migente - online communities for blacks and latinos. Here's an overview of social networking sites for specific ethnic groups - blackplanet as 18 million users.
  • Pew Study on Social Media and Teens:  (See page 33)

Photo by MckaySavage

I was hoping to find a better photo of young people at the computers for future presentations. It took me about an hour of searching on many different key words to try to find a photo that was creative commons licensed, showing a person or people of color at a computer.  I did not have much luck finding any with young people of color.

I thought I might also easily find a list of bloggers who write about race and social media.  I was able to find bloggers on AllTop organized by chicano, black, Hawaii, and First Nations.

My colleague, Marian who blogs about race has an extensive blogroll and part of the African American web ring. See also Corona Research - Who Uses the Internet?

Last Sunday night, Leslie Poston invited me to participate on her podcast on Race and Social Media along with Shireen Mitchell, Liza Sabiter, and Rahsheen Porter.  
One of the takeaways was, don't assume that everyone thinks like you do
- and expose yourself to different points of view.  

Where can one find the answer to the question, "What color is the social web?"  How do you make sure you that you expose yourself to people who are not like you while
socializing on the social web?

Beth Kanter, BlogHer CE for Nonprofits and Social Change, writes Beth's Blog.

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