Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Accidental Activists: Using Facebook to Drive Change: An Interview with Randi Zuckerberg

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Accidental Activists: Using Facebook to Drive Change: An Interview with Randi Zuckerberg

Article excerpt

With millions of users across the world, from places as diverse as Colombia, Kenya and Malaysia, Facebook has revolutionized social networking. Randi Zuckerberg, who works on marketing, politics, current events and nonprofits for Facebook, Inc., explains how 500 million friends are turning the online social network into people power and change for the better. This interview was conducted by Jose Vericat for the Journal of International Affairs.

Journal of International Affairs: In your introduction to the book The Networked Nonprofit, you talk about the 5.5 million members of Facebook who joined a group to support cancer research and who in the end raised $135,000. It is impressive, but one cannot help thinking that is only 2.45 cents per person. Can Facebook go beyond the virtual Oxfam water jar? In other words, is social media merely a vehicle for self expression that does not offer ways to effect change?

Randi Zuckerberg: I think it is important to remember that social media used effectively for fundraising is, in many ways, still in its infancy. People are only just starting to tap into its potential. I would also encourage you to look beyond the dollar amount alone. Through social media, people not only donate money, but even more importantly, their reputation and identity. Each time someone clicks "like" or joins a cause on Facebook, they are broadcasting that message to hundreds of their friends, and aligning themselves with a particular issue. Even though they might not donate much in the beginning, the awareness generated from that simple action has a ripple effect and has the potential to recruit some extremely engaged volunteers and donors in the future. In the cancer research example, $135,000 was raised, but 5.5 million people were also made more aware of that particular issue. Awareness is an immensely powerful tool to effect social change.

Journal: How far can Facebook go to support democratization, for example in Egypt, where other more conventional efforts have failed so far?

Zuckerberg: Social media is inherently democratic since it allows people to produce, consume and share content broadly. For flee. Giving people a platform for discussion and coordination has tremendous ramifications for democratization in Egypt and across the globe. The image of the hundreds of thousands of Colombian citizens who organized on Facebook and marched to protest the FARC is a testament to this. (1)

Facebook provides a forum where information can be quickly and efficiently published, and this function takes on particular importance where these forums are absent from day-to-day political life or where individual liberties are curtailed. I believe that Facebook's ability to occupy the space of a free and unmoderated media and civil space will bring many more opportunities for meaningful democratic change.

From a young Canadian university student named Alex Bookbinder who rallied others against state-sponsored violence in Burma/Myanmar, to the thousands upon thousands of Colombian citizens who collectively rallied against FARC, Facebook has facilitated social interactions that would have been otherwise impossible. I believe that Facebook will continue to exist as a powerful means for tackling collective action issues.

Journal: Beyond democratization, in what other areas are you having a global impact? We hear, for example, that survivors of the Haiti earthquake used Facebook to search for their relatives, or people in refugee camps in Kenya used it to find work. How much of this is actually going on? What is the actual impact?

Zuckerberg: Facebook as a whole represents the cumulative interaction of 500 million people, each creating their own story. …

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