Ivan Boothe wrote a terrific post last week about Causes taking down its application from MySpace. Causes is an application for use on social networking sites. it enables users to highlight causes that they care about asking friends to join their cause and also to make donations.
Since its launch in 2006, there are around 250,000 Causes on Facebook. A cause does not have to be associated with a specific nonprofit, and most of these, over 200,00 aren’t. They are people who are passionate about something, say the high cost of tuition or global warming writ large, and want their friends to know about it. That leaves about 46,000 causes that are connected to a specific nonprofit organization.I have written before about the meaning of Causes on Facebook.
Last year Causes broadened its reach to MySpace. By shutting down the application on MySpace, Causes is leaving about 184,000 cause enthusiasts out in the cold. The number of users on MySpace was tiny compared to the reported 30 million active monthly users of Causes on Facebook. And, according to the Facebook Causes blog, the application has helped raise more than $12 million for nonprofits based in the U.S. and Canada. Over $5 million has been raised in 2009 alone.
This stirred quite a bit of commentary last week with very thoughtful pieces from Ivan as mentioned above, Amy Sample Ward, and Sean Stannard-Stockton. They noted the lack of robustness of the Causes application on MySpace compared to Facebook, the lack of conversation by and from Causes about why they made the decision, what it means for MySpace users, and the risk that nonprofit organizations take when they use third party applications like Causes to help build community online.
But there was one argument in particular that really resonated with me. When I first heard the news, I immediately began to think about a terrific, provocative talk that danah boyd gave last summer at the Personal Democracy Forum. It was appropriately titled, “The Not So Hidden Politics of Class Online.” Here is the video from her talk. She talked about the emerging online divides by race and class that are appearing, particularly the differences between the college-oriented people on Facebook and the non-college population on MySpace.
danah’s talk resonated with a post by Justin Maasa entitled “Social Networking Redlining.” Redlining was the practice of banks to steer their mortgages to people of certain races and ethnicities in certain neighborhoods. In other words, a way to keep African Americans out of certain neighborhoods was for banks not to lend them mortgages. This short post really summed up something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, the tension between the natural friending that happens on social networking sites that create cliques and silos and that can’t be avoided, and the institutional boundaries that are being created between sites like Facebook and MySpace.It is the institutional boundaries that nonprofit organizations should be fighting the hardest to try to breach.
Causes made a business decision, they were not making, or foreseeing, a return on investment for the application on MySpace. That’s entirely their right. The problem from a social change point of view are the number of nonprofit organizations that are shying away from MySpace in favor of Facebook. some assume from the popular press that MySpace is dying – it isn’t. Some assume that it isn’t cool to be on MySpace now. Or worse, they are focusing their organizational efforts towards Facebook because that’s where they hang out in their off time, that’s where their friends and family are socializing.
Social change needs to happen everywhere. Nonprofit organizations are charged with making it happen, intentionally, in easy places and harder places. MySpace may be a more challenging environment for some nonprofit organizations but it doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be there. Perhaps it means that they need to be there even more, to help raise awareness of issue, listen to what people are saying, and help to organize. Only by intentionally reaching out to communities that are too often overlooked will nonprofit organizations be able to help take down the boundaries that are keeping the voices of marginalized communities from being heard.
I’m glad that this issue was raised and led to a constructive conversation about the need for nonprofits not to overlook MySpace. Thanks to everyone for participating in an interesting dialogue.