Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media have led to an explosion in ordinary people taking part in campaigns. Whether it is people signing a petition at 38 Degrees or Avaaz, or simply putting a cryptic status update on Facebook in support of a cause (so-called ‘slacktivism‘), people feel empowered and can make a difference. When schoolgirl Martha Payne blogged about her school dinners at Never Seconds, there was a populist uprising when local education officials tried to stop her photographing the meals and writing about them. The resultant campaign raised over £100,000 for the charity Mary’s Meals in Malawi.
But that will seem altogether too high-powered for the average Internet-connected Christian. Yet we can harness the power of social media, too. Here is just one story.
In July 2012, our seven-year-old son Mark came home from school one Friday, having discovered that Fran, the much-loved school crossing patrol in our village, was facing a threat to her job from the county council – or at very least, the circumscribing of her powers. He immediately emailed his Head Teacher, who was surprised to hear this, especially as he was Fran’s line manager. And so a campaign began. We set up a website, Fran’s Fans, and an accompanying Facebook page. News about the campaign was cross-posted to both. Community websites highlighted our website. Councillors and journalists were bombarded with emails, and the local press covered the story, by which time the council had backtracked, claiming it was all a misunderstanding. Success!
And we were noticed elsewhere. Popular TV science programme Bang Goes The Theory was looking to film a school crossing patrol as part of a story on the age at which children can anticipate the speed of on-coming vehicles. Surfing the web, they discovered the Fran’s Fans campaign and filmed her with local schoolchildren, who were then used in the experiments in the story.
There is considerable power to be harnessed here, and we can use it well in the cause of justice, compassion and outreach.