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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Things That I Love III: Social Media (After Susan G. Komen)

On January 31st, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would halt grants to Planned Parenthood.

I know this because on the 31st my Facebook page was saturated with the news. In the next three days links to news, criticism, petitions, clever photos, and other calls to action poured in. It seemed every day dozens more friends had signed on to register their disapproval.

By February 3rd, Komen had caved, issuing an apology and a new statement that Planned Parenthood would be eligible for grants from the foundation.

I love Planned Parenthood. Those who know me know that I feel like Planned Parenthood helped me at a time when I was having a lot of health issues and was too poor to pay for any of it. I was frustrated, scared, and didn't know what to do. I feel like I owe Planned Parenthood a lot. I feel like they sort of saved me.

But that's not what I want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about the various political agendas that motivated Komen's decision and then its reversal. You have mine now, if you're curious, but that's not the point.

The point is that after just three days after the initial announcement, Susan G. Komen backed off after a "deluge of outrage online."

It is amazing and inspiring that so many people were able to organize so quickly and affect real change in the world.

Stories like these remind me why I am so passionate and curious about social media - why I keep reading about it and think about it and talking about it and experimenting with it. I imagine without social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, this is how the whole Komen thing would have went down:

-On January 31st, Susan G. Komen announces its decision. Maybe I read about it in the New York Times, but let's face it: probably not. I really only skim everything that's not the theater section.

-Later that week, somebody says to me, "Hey, did you hear Susan G. Komen pulled its funding from Parenthood?" I say, "WHAT?!? That's BS. I'm not buying any more of that pink crap."

-October, breast cancer awareness month, comes around eight months later and I buy some pink crap.


-Someone posted the news and I shared it.
-Someone commented in protest and I liked it.
-Someone gave a link to a petition and I signed it.

And three days later, the decision was reversed.

Since the moment of its inception, it has struck me what a wildly powerful tool social media is; it has the potential to connect and organize massive groups of people on a scale that has never, ever been possible before.

Actually, it wasn't at the inception of social media that I got so excited. I actually remember the moment. It was that group - do you remember it? - that upstart kid who started a group on Facebook about seven years ago called, "For Every Member of This Group I Will Donate A Dollar To Darfur." This was before you could post a link, way before you could share somebody else's status - it might have even been before the newsfeed. But somehow, this kid's page went viral and, if he was true to his word, relief in Darfur got a ton of money.

And it occurred to me: my god, look at all these people, all these 250,000 members (yes, that was viral back in the day) who have come together so easily to do real good for the people of Darfur just because it was as simple as clicking a button.

How many other millions of people, in how many other ways, can technology like this unite? The potential was - and still is - limitless and unprecedented.

Of course, as anyone who's been on social media for more than five minutes knows, it's really not as simple as a click of a button. I know from experience that it's about as difficult to make something go viral as it is easy. This Planned Parenthood scandal raced across the internet - as did the protests agains the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills earlier in the month, and both campaigns were met with incredible success. But for every SOPA, how many other dozens of good and necessary causes, organizations and people that deserve our attention fall through the cracks?

The first thing I did after realizing social media's potential was to form a group that would be dedicated to seeing plays that were written, directed or produced by women on a regular basis to support female artists with our pocketbooks as well as just with advocacy. Six people joined. It never really got off the ground.

Meanwhile, seven years later, Works by Women is a group that is using another social tool, Meetup.com, to do exactly what I had attempted with much greater success.

It takes a strange mix of expertise, charisma, dedication and luck to use social media well. I want to discover what that mix is and make it work for me. That's why I love social media.

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