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.