Civil Rights Groups Integrating Social Media Into Outreach Efforts

Increasingly, but so far with mixed results, civil rights activists are using social media to spread their message, the Washington Post reports.

The rise in online activism has been spurred, at least in part, by data which shows minorities outpacing other racial and ethnic groups in the use of social media. Research by the Pew Internet & Family Life Project has found that minority Internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white users, while the proportion of Internet users who are African-American or Latino has jumped from 11 percent to 21 percent over the last decade.

At the same time, many groups' social media efforts have yielded mixed results. The civil rights organization Color of Change, for example, was a catalyst in the protest marches and fundraisers in 2007 that eventually led to reduced charges for a group of young African-American men in Jena, Louisiana, who had been implicated in an assault on a white classmate. A more recent campaign by the organization, however, was unable to raise much money for groups helping to rebuild the black community in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Elsewhere, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has started to use new social media tools to rally supporters. Last year, the venerable organization launched an online campaign to encourage its members to unify behind Jamie and Gladys Scott, two Mississippi sisters who were convicted of armed robbery and given double life sentences in 1993. In addition to asking NAACP members to sign an online petition protesting the draconian sentences, the organization's leaders also are engaging in "old-school activism" in an effort to secure a pardon for the women.

"Our strategy is to use new media to supercharge our existing field, lobbying, and communication capacities," NAACP president Benjamin Jealous told the Post. "New media isn't our trick, but it's a groove that holds all of other work together."