Thursday, June 16, 2011

Social Media and Advocacy in the Inner City

On Wednesday, June 15, I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the inner city discussion group of the Edmonton Inner City Health Research and Education Network (EICHREN). The topic of the evening was "Social Media and Advocacy," and the organizers felt that my work with Boyle McCauley News, my strong online presence (particularly on Facebook and Twitter), and passion for social causes made me an ideal person to share my knowledge.

Most of the people at the meeting were young doctors, medical students, nurses, and people involved in inner city organizations such as the Boyle McCauley Health Centre and George Spady Centre. They wanted to know how effective social media was and how they could use it in areas of advocacy with which they are involved, such as harm reduction, safe injection sites, and needle exchange programs. The group was split pretty much down the middle in terms of those who were familiar with social media, and those who had no idea how Twitter even worked.

I talked a little but about how I gave Boyle McCauley News a presence on social media and how such methods can be used for informing one's contact base of events and information. Besides some technical questions about how it all actually works, one of the main concerns was access. I pointed out that access to computers, as well as literacy (both towards computers and in the traditional sense) could be issues for certain groups in the inner city, such as the homeless. People who are not homeless but lower income may not own a computer. Some discussion ensued about allowing access to the Internet at various agencies, as it was felt that if the technology was available and a person was able to use it, they likely would.

Other discussion ensued about the efficacy of using social media over traditional kinds of advocacy (such as those done in person or writing physical letters as opposed to emails), citing Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.

Overall, EICHREN is a group that is just gaining momentum. How it will use social media and for what purposes are yet to be established. It already has a Twitter account. The fact that the people involved are interested in social media and asking the right questions shows promise for what is potentially a strong push for advocacy of inner city health issues.

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