This is Ashton Kutcher conferring with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in Moscow on Tuesday. They are part of a delegation of techtopians sent by the State Department to Russia. According to the New York Times straight-faced report of the visit (always missing an opportunity for a delicious satire over there at the regal Times), “Among the delegation’s goals was to persuade Russia’s thriving online social networks to take up social causes like fighting corruption or human trafficking..”
Of course, nothing wrong with anyone making the case anywhere in the world of the power of people-to-people activism fueled by social media to make enormous differences in their lives and their governments. Although using my tax dollars to send Ashton Kutcher across the globe does give me pause.
The problem is that there is someone ( a lot of someones, actually) missing from this photo – missing from the whole delegation. The heads of E-Bay and Mozilla were there, as was the brilliant Esther Dyson who has spent a good part of her career focused on ways to use technology for the common good.
But why didn’t it occur to anyone in the State Department to include someone in the delegation who actually does this work – who works to build civic society using social media every day – to the event?
If the purpose of the delegation was to promote the use of social media for building small businesses it would be expected that the contingent would include mainly for profit business folks. So, why doesn’t that same axiom hold true when talking about civic society?
Because, once again and for the umpteenth time, the assumption by outside observers is that what we do is pretty easy. See, all you have to do is log onto Twitter, it’s free and so easy to use that Ashton and Demi do it all the time, and poof! civil society building just magically happens. The strategy and network weaving that are beneath all of the recent successful efforts to use social media for social change are either dismissed, or more likely, not understood and therefore not included as part of the discussion.
So, Jared Cohen or anyone over at the State Department, if you’re listening, why don’t you think about inviting folks like Robert Egger or Beth Kanter or Katya Andresen, or Katrin Verclas to speak knowledgeably about what it takes to use social media for social change.