Leveraging the Power of Digital and Social Media to Elevate Voices

This is a guest post by our event partner, The Brooklyn Bureau. Mark Anthony Thomas is the Director of City Limits; a New York City based non-profit investigative journalism organization. The Brooklyn Bureau Launch is an official Social Media Week event.

Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other, and we’ve seen the introduction of new tools that were beyond the scope of the human imagination even a decade ago. While we can’t claim that our generation’s innovations are more novel than similar groundbreaking technologies of the past, something about the last few years feels especially transformative.

Now that we’ve convened for Social Media Week— which has seen tremendous growth in its three-year history— and connected the globe, the next question should be: how do we transform it?

In this creative era, we’re simultaneously archiving the world’s history while creating new platforms for expression and teaching technology literacy while beta testing new models. This can be exhausting for even the most tech-savvy to stay attuned to, let alone grasp the pulse of how fast things continue to evolve.

The world we live in is one of great opportunity and great inequity, a place of open democracies and closed societies. While we see new technologies break down the language, educational, and geographic barriers that have inhibited many—what’s next? How does this lead to social progress? What does the strength of our collective voices now mean?

Instead of looking to technology to help us shape our lives, we must understand how we can use technology to shape our societies.

First, we must understand that we are social media. Every voice matters and without a variety of voices, the platforms lack full potential. Social platforms are best used when connecting audiences with the best content and information, and enabling opportunities for organizations and curators to cultivate a following and conversations.

Grassroots organizing through digital tools—understanding that free democracies are built on bottom-up activism—can help employ action to truly leverage social media’s power to stem social transformation.

The Arab Spring and the Occupy movements are the latest in the history of human movements and protests, but social media has made it easier to connect as equally as archiving of history has made it easier to learn from the past.

New York City, with all of its amazing assets and diversity, is still one of America’s least civically engaged cities, providing ample audiences and opportunities for us to truly tap into the city’s underserved communities to elevate voices and make an impact here at home.

Just as urbanists look to New York City as America’s largest city to understand how we tackle our most critical issues, the next few years should challenge us to truly leverage the power of digital and social media to turn the tide on citizen apathy and engaging underserved communities.

City Limits and the Brooklyn Community Foundation are taking a step to do just this in Brooklyn, with the launch of the Brooklyn Bureau. Our new site will provide in-depth coverage and civic commentary in Brooklyn—which if separate would be America’s 5th largest city. This project is one of 19 digital projects jointly funded by the Knight Foundation that address community information needs.

Our event was an invitation to learn more about what we’re doing in Brooklyn, and overall, to serve as a model for leveraging the power of media to increase civic literary. See us in action now.

Girls Like Rachel Lloyd Can Turn Trauma Into Activism

This post is a series of blogs contributed by SMW NYC media partner Differences Magazine. To learn more about Differences Magazine and to see the original post by Jessica Bender, please click here

You wouldn’t think that Rachel Lloyd had been through any hardships just by looking at her. Decked out in an animal print cardigan and fiery red pants, the executive director and founder of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)was the model for how powerful women should appear. When Lloyd strutted up to the podium at her own keynote at Thomson Reuters on Tuesday afternoon, she had a certain air of confidence to her, one that you can gain when you go through a traumatic experience like she has.

Lloyd is living proof that any girl, regardless of race or income, can be a victim of trafficking. For a good chunk of time in her teens (until she was 19), she was struggling to get out of the sex trafficking industry. When she eventually found a way out, she wanted to do nothing more than help other trafficking victims. “Squares would treat [these victims] like they didn’t belong,” Lloyd began. “If [society] didn’t change public perception about the way girls were being treated, nothing was going to change.”

With only a computer and $30, Lloyd started GEMS in the comfort of her own apartment in 1998. Although she first started to spread awareness about trafficking using typical grassroots techniques (petitioning, picketing, handing out flyers, etc.), Lloyd wanted to get the word out in a more creative fashion.


A book and a documentary put out by Lloyd and GEMS completely changed the future of the non-profit. Starting with the book Breaking the Silence, GEMS members told their heart-wrenching stories using personal stories, prose, photography and other forms of art. What really got GEMS the attention it rightfully deserved, though, was the film Very Young Girls. According to the non-profit site:

Very Young Girls is an exposé of the commercial sexual exploitation of girls in New York City as they are sold on the streets by pimps and treated as adult criminals by police. The film follows barely adolescent girls in real time, using vérité and intimate interviews with them, documenting their struggles and triumphs as they seek to exit the commercial sex industry. The film also uses startling footage shot by pimps themselves, giving a rare glimpse into how the cycle of exploitation begins for many women.

While the film had success at film festivals across the country, the documentary exploded on premium cable channel Showtime. Lloyd admitted that praise came from the strangest places, since the filmed aired during the late night on TV – even drug dealers in Rachel’s neighborhood raved about the movie to her!

Success may not have come overnight for the organization, but their achievements are undeniable. GEMS is currently the largest non-profit in the country working with sexually trafficked young women. They mentor over 300 girls each year through recovery and leadership programs, and currently have three distinct housing programs, providing the girls with services they need to conquer life.

GEMS’ current project has Lloyd hoping that sexual exploitation awareness will hit the mainstream. In partnership with trafficking organizations Free the Slaves and Polaris ProjectmtvU’s Against Our Will Campaign was launched in September 2011. The campaign’s main focus is to empower college students to learn more about modern-day slavery and inspire them to take action to end trafficking for good. While being on mtvU is a big stepping stone, Lloyd dreams of getting the campaign on MTV by the end of the year.

Keynote Spotlight: Douglas Rushkoff, Author & Media Theorist Program or Be Programmed

Douglas Rushkoff, Author & Media Theorist Program or Be Programmed


This post is a part of a continuing series of Keynote Spotlights– check back here throughout the week for more information on the phenomenal individuals who will be gracing #SMW12 events next week!




You can hear from Doug on Thursday February 16th from 9-11:30am, followed by Panel: Just like The 60’s: How Social Media Has (Or Hasn’t Changed Civic Movements) at the Social & Environmental Change Hub.

Winner of the Media Ecology Association’s first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values. He is technology and media commentator for CNN, and has taught and lectured around the world about media, technology, culture and economics.

His new book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a followup to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation. His last book, an analysis of the corporate spectacle called Life Inc., was also made into a short, award-winning film.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He wrote a series of graphic novels called Testament, and his new graphic novel, A.D.D., was just released by Vertigo.

He has written and hosted three award-winning Frontline documentaries – The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance, and most recently, Digital Nation, about life on the virtual frontier.

His commentaries have aired on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Timemagazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as regular columns for ArthurDiscover Magazine and The Feature. He also hosted is own radio program on WFMU, The Media-Squat.

Rushkoff is finishing his PhD at Utrecht University’s New Media Program. He has taught regularly for the MaybeLogic Academy, NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, The New School University, and the Esalen Institute. He also lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

Click here to register to hear him speak!