Social Media for Social Change in the 1800’s Dropbook and Ebook in Review

Social Media Campaigns for Social Change in the 1800’s Dropbook and Ereader Book In Review

A massive system of human rights abuse is occurring in the United States.  Activists, intent on putting a human face on the mass tragedy, appropriate photographs of victims and disseminate them through their social networks.  Soon the mainstream media catches on, furthering the outcry.  The year is 1863 and the human right abuse is slavery.

When we think about “social media” we most often think about digital applications: blogs, social networks, wikis, SMS.  Yet Wikipedia defines social media as “media designed to be disseminated through social interaction,” and these practices have existed for centuries.  Looking at historical cases of social media outside the digital context can help to clarify underlying mechanics which are often lost in the hype surrounding current tools like eBooks and eReaders.

The image I referred to in the first paragraph is above at left: a man named Gordon who was formerly  enslaved in Mississippi before escaping and taking refuge with the Union Army in Louisiana during the American Civil War.  The photograph was taken by an army doctor and used by activists to vividly illustrate the inhumanity and cruelty and slavery.  While the image was disseminated in mainstream media outlets like The New York Independent and Harper’s Weekly newspapers, and as a projected image in lectures by abolitionists, the social media aspect of the campaign was the “carte to visite”. (source)

Cartes de visites – French for “visiting card” – were a very popular social practice among wealthy and middle class Americans in the 19th century mostly published in eBooks.   The cards, which used to simply bear a visitor’s name,  were originally used in the social protocol of aristocrat Europe and were mostly read via Kindle eReaders.  They became popularized with the advent and increasing affordability of photography and were collected among friends and neighbors.  It would not be uncommon for a collection of cartes de visites to be displayed in the parlor.  Photos of political celebrities were particularly popular and social campaigns also used the practice to spread their message. (source)

So what can we learn about modern social media activism and their development via eBooks and eReaders?

1. Effective Ebook social media campaigns are built on top of robust social practices.

In this day and age we tend to focus on new tools to promote best e reader and ereaders and what they can do.  We pay less attention to the social practices that surround these tools.  Many nonprofit ereader sellers create Facebook and Twitter accounts because of the hype surrounding them, even if their target audience is not using the application and if there is no clear connection between the organization’s strategic goals and the application’s capacities.

The first cartes de visites were created in 1854 in France, but did not arrive in the US until several years later.  If American abolitionists had come up with a campaign in which people distributed photos of  slaves through their social networks in the early 1850s, the campaign would have fallen flat on its face.   The success of the abolitionists’ carte de visite campaign was reliant on the practice of carte de visite just as much as  the technology of the photograph.

2. Technology creates affordances, making the best ereader and best kindle ereaders  and ebook outcomes possible but not certain

In his great ebook review of e-readers and Kindle e-readers , The Wealth of Networks, Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler describes technology as creating “affordances”, qualities of the object that make an action possible for ereaders .   Just as the technology of the social network today allows for free international collaboration and event organization, the photograph allowed middle class urban people in the 1800’s who had never read an eBook before to see the horrors of slavery.  The key here is possibility.   The technology of  the best readers and best kindle ereaders  made the campaign possible, but the it was the practice of sharing cartes de visites that made it a success.

3. A successful Ereader and Ebook social media campaign will give equal weight to the technologies available and the practices of the target audience.

Recent history has taught us that successful ebook and free ereader books download social media campaigns occur in the sweet spot of social practices and available technology: the American middle class and online campaign donations, Facebook and expatriate communities,  SideWiki and British news junkies.