Spreading FIRE’s Message in 2010: The Power of Social Media

December 23, 2010

Public advocacy has long been FIRE’s number one weaponas we always say, the best way to combat speech with which you disagree is with more speech. In 2010, our public advocacy strategy has reached a new and even more effective level, as “Web 2.0” plays an increasingly important role in the marketplace of ideas.

Social media has become a powerful tool in FIRE’s fight to protect free speech on college campuses across the nation. We’ve built dedicated communities on a number of different platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We count on our online supporters to help us circulate our message, and thanks to their support, FIRE news now spreads beyond traditional media such as letters to colleges and universities, Torch posts, and national press releases. We also count on our supporters to provide the feedback and interaction necessary to start dialogues and debates. And, occasionally, they even provide us with the jumping-off tools necessary to get a case going.

Twitter, often thought of as the “new newswire,” has provided us with the means to break our news in a timely and succinct manner. But more importantly, when our messages go out to our Twitter followers, these “tweets” have the ability to be shared in the “Twitterverse” with those that are seeing FIRE’s name for the first time. Last month, celebrity and FIRE supporter Adam Baldwin “retweeted” our news regarding the ‘Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act’ to his almost 47,000 followers. Thanks to Baldwin, that’s 47,000 people who might not have even known individual rights on college campuses are being violated every day. Every retweet counts-it’s a chain reaction.

FIRE’s Facebook page, in addition to providing us with another platform for getting our news out to our diverse audience, has served as a vessel for people to voice opinions about FIRE cases and issues. Facebook comments promote interaction between not only FIRE fans, but also people who oppose our stances, giving us the chance to showcase the importance of robust debate in America. And again, it’s a chain reaction. When heated comments such as “What is the difference between saying ‘Fire’ or’ Bomb’ or a verbal threat to the President of the USA and saying racist, sexist, or homophobic statements? Nothing! They are all wrong and should be banned!” (via Brian C. Steinberg, who recently removed his comments from FIRE’s Facebook page) make it from FIRE’s page to our fans’ newsfeeds, it’s exactly the kind of spark that fuels debate.

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff reminded us on Tuesday why it’s important to capitalize on new technology to spread our message, and throughout 2010, FIRE’s short films have made a big splash on YouTube. Multimedia is especially important for a case like that of student Joshua Stulman, whose “Portraits of Terror” art exhibit was censored by his university because it satirized Islamic terrorism. Because it was Joshua’s images, as opposed to words, being censored, our short film brings his struggle to life in a way that our blog posts and press releases cannot. “Portraits of Terror” recently exceeded 10,000 views on YouTubeand as the Internet’s most popular video sharing website, we’re thrilled people are tuning in to our YouTube channel and commenting on our cases after seeing them in live motion.

Because web platforms have proven to be such successful media outreach tools, we recently expanded our social networking strategy into fundraising as well. On Thanksgiving morning, Greg announced on Twitter that anyone who “Gives a Tweet” for FIRE will have their donation doubled by Greg himself. Greg pledged to match up to $1,000 throughout the remainder of 2010, giving people the opportunity to have their gift to FIRE go twice the distance. Twitter users can visit FIRE’s Give a Tweet Campaign page, allow the program access to their Twitter account, and then click the red “donate” button, making sure to choose a “Matcher” from the drop-down menu provided on the donation page. Once “Tweeple” Give a Tweet for FIRE, three tweets are automatically generated-one from the Twitter user, one from the matcher, and one from FIRE’s Twitter account, thanking the user for his or her participation. The tweet gifts not only help FIRE with a donation, but also helps us promote the Twitter chain reaction.

Similarly, we re-vamped our “Facebook Cause,” a fundraising application designed to encourage our fans to show support for liberty on campus by joining the cause and urging friends to join as well. If you haven’t joined yet, please do!

And as the rise of social media continues to sweep the nation, we’re even starting to see social media censorship pop up as potential FIRE cases. We’re predicting we’ll see more in 2011.

We’re glad to be making waves across the “blogosphere,” “Twitterverse,” and other spots throughout the social web. And I’ll confess, as a print journalism major, I used to scowl when my mentors told me to start marketing myself as a web journalist because “social media is the future of journalism.” But I’ve come to realize how effective, exciting, and important social media isin fact, I wouldn’t have joined the ranks of free speech advocates if I hadn’t found out about the Student Press Law Center (FIRE’s frequent partner in defending student rights) on Twitter a year and a half ago.

So if you haven’t yet, please join usit only takes a moment. Follow us on Twitter, “Like” our Facebook page, and subscribe to our YouTube channel, so you too can be a part of ensuring that America’s college campuses serve their missions as free and open marketplaces of ideas.