“The world, we are told, is in the mist of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns” says Malcolm Gladwell, author of annals of innovation Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted. His argument is that because relationships made on social media are mainly loose and distant, mostly acquaintances, that social media is great for spreading messages. What it cannot offer however, are passionate and tight knit groups of people, as were found during the civil rights movement.
The kinds of groups who were willing to lay down, no, stand up and die for one another.
I agree that perhaps social media is not the platform for a movement where the call for action involves risking your life. But does this mean that tangible, monumental and even world changing campaigns cannot find foot holds within social media? I absolutely think that they can.
I first learned of the Rain Forest Action Network’s “The Last Stand of the Orangutan” campaign during a lecture by the two women charged with running things from the social media standpoint of the campaign. Other than the realization that the campaign was brilliantly designed, I learned about the passion that these people have for this campaign. I have always been of the belief that when someone is truly and deeply passionate about a cause, they will find a way to make a difference.
Some Back story of the campaign:
Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia were once covered in dense rain forests that are home to the highly endangered Sumatran Tigers, Elephants and Orangutans. One of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the entire world, it is simple to understand why an area like this must be protected. Unfortunately, these areas are being devastated by industry and deforestation because they are prime locations to grow the plant that produces Palm Oil. Furthermore, the deforestation has caused Malaysia to be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, right behind the U.S. and China.
Because of the ban on trans-fat in America, the use of Palm Oil has absolutely skyrocketed. It is highly desirable to snack food companies because at room temperature it is solid, when heated it remains stable, and most importantly, it does not contain trans-fat. In fact, a whopping 50% of all packaged food contains the oil. The most common offender is peanut butter.
What is most upsetting about this, is that American Consumers are largely uneducated about the fact that our snacking habits are driving Orangutans to extinction. If they did know this, perhaps they would choose not to buy these products.
This is where the Rain forest Action Network comes in.
They have compiled a list that they call the “Snack-food 20″. These are the 20 largest companies who are at fault for exploiting these habitats. These companies include Hershey, Campbells, Nestle, and yes…. even Pittsburgh’s beloved Heinz. The goal of the Rain Forest Action Network (RAN) is to force these companies to adopt policies that ensure that they are using oil that is sourced responsibly.
RAN began it’s campaign in September by educating consumers about the dangers of Palm Oil. Since then, rallied supporters to began Tweeting at these companies, demanding that they end the use of conflict Palm Oil.
One might ask how simply Tweeting at a company can be effective in bringing about change. Malclom Gladwell may even argue that it is not even possible that a food revolution can be brought about via social media… but I am here to say it absolutely can.
Large corporation’s bottom line is profit, of course. If their customers can voice to them how important it is they stop using Palm Oil, and even stop buying some of these products, a company begins to worry about profit loss. What better medium to convey these messages than the social kind? Direct action, sit-ins and protests worked great for the Civil Right’s Movement, but for this sort of revolution, I cannot think of a more appropriate demonstration than to take to the web in masses and let these 20 companies know what their customers think.
RAN has taken the campaign a step further, and asked supporters to create photo protests. These are pictures that will be posted on Instagram under the hash-tag #itsinyourpalm. RAN aims to collect 60,600 pictures, one for every remaining Orangutan, and present them to these to the Snack-Food 20.
If that isn’t enough, the rain forest action network has also released phony press releases that stated Hershey would begin to use conflict free Palm Oil. Embarrassingly, the company had to admit to it’s customers who were ecstatic about the news- that they have not yet adopted the policy.
Read more about the stunt here —> http://understory.ran.org/2013/10/26/ran-crashes-hersheys-halloween-party/\
Malcolm states that the platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Although supporters of the Rain Forest Action Network may not know each other, that does not mean they are weak. They are giving voice and power to the customer. We don’t have to risk our lives, because we can speak through the wallet by not buying these products. In this case, social media does not present only the opportunity to band together, but to speak directly to the corporations responsibility. In my opinion that is a major step in the right direction for social, food and environmental justice.
View more tweets and photos here —> http://storify.com/Jahlise/the-last-stand-of-the-orangutan-a-social-media-cam
Learn more about the cause here —> http://ran.org/problem-palm-oil-factsheet
Sign a petition and become involved here —>http://act.ran.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8546