Social Media for Social Good

By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice

I’ll admit, and perhaps surprisingly to some, that I have always been a bit leery of social media. When LinkedIn started in 2002, I saw the value of professional online connection, but didn’t see the utility of what seemed to be a clunky platform. When Myspace started in 2003, I thought it was creepy. I didn’t like the idea of anyone opening themselves up to the threat of potential predators. When Facebook started in 2004, I thought it was voyeuristic. I really didn’t like the idea of sharing my life in such a public way. I tested it out to promote work activities, but the general response was that people wanted to see more social than professional, which I didn’t want to do. When Twitter started in 2006, I didn’t quite understand how to navigate it. Having a small child at that point, I didn’t see the point of it for my life. When Instagram started in 2010, I had twin babies and a young school age child as well as a job where I worked 60+ hours a week. I just didn’t have the time for it.  And in 2011, when Snapchat started, I didn’t even bother with it. 

But then came 2013, when my family made a sudden and unexpected move to Colorado. We left many friends and were at distance from family and other friends around the country, and then my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastasized melanoma shortly after the move. Suddenly life became simple and complex all at once. Work and all the activities of our life had to stop for a while so that we could focus on the matter at hand – getting my husband healthy again. It was a major and difficult time in our lives, and it was a time when it was difficult to connect with even our closest family and friends in a direct way. I didn’t like the idea of sharing a play-by-play of his treatment, but when it seemed that his health was in the clear, I felt it was time to share that good news. I turned to Facebook to provide the widest, simplest method of reaching many in my family and friend circles.  It became an effective means of informing many, though not all, and doing so quickly and with some level of interaction (short of a personal call).  

That experience opened up social media for me. For the first year after my husband’s clean bill of health, I regularly and intentionally turned to Facebook as a bit of way to say, “He is ok. We are ok.” With our new life in CO, I wanted to share our moments so that his Mom in Mississippi and my Mom in Minnesota could follow along with our lives since we would not see either very frequently. I also thought it would help connect with those friends furthest away that I didn’t see or talk to but missed. And with the warp speed of my life, it became a real time online journal of my life. 

Sadly, despite my purpose, some friends and family started to see my posts as negative.  They commented to each other – and sometimes to me – that everything I did seemed to be on Facebook. They were critical that I was sharing my life this way.  I’m still not sure why that should be a problem for them, but somehow it seemed to bother them. 

That experience opened my eyes about social media.  I had been using it mostly as a one way communication to provide information and a connection from a distance.  I didn’t really stop to think how my communication may be perceived or received by whoever sees it or how they would view me or my life because of it.  I saw it as notifications of my life – images of our family in between visits in person.  But I realized that social media was and is a platform that also generates various emotions – sometimes supportive, sometimes not.  And once something is posted, those posts don’t always connect with others in the way one might intend.

Further, there are other significant downsides to social media.  It is indeed voyeuristic – taking away privacy that we used to have.  It is often a waste of time following all the random posts.  It is filled with “junk.” It fostered meanness and conflict in various instances.  And, as such an overload of images and information, people either don’t see or don’t care what is shared.  In some ways, it is anti-social media. 

But despite the social flaws of social media, the technology offers something distinctive.  I fundamentally believe that this technology, like all technologies, can be used for good.  And so I set out to do that.  With these lessons, good and bad, in mind, G.L.O.B.A.L. was established in a way that intentionally uses social media for social good.  Since social media is a vehicle for disseminating both information and emotion, G.L.O.B.A.L. disseminates information that helps engage people with concerns worldwide.  

When I began sharing on either my personal page or through G.L.O.B.A.L’s pages about various social, political, and economic issues, people responded. My commentaries, particularly on political issues, were being read widely. And they generated discussion, debate, and sometimes disagreement. People shared the commentaries, and sometimes even when they disagreed they shared because they may have liked the approach – level, even-handed…unlike what they had been seeing on social media. It was an interesting way to engage discourse, and especially with those outside of my closest circles.  

Throughout the past five years, G.L.O.B.A.L. has made a concerted effort to continue to utilize social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram – not just for what it is, but for what it could be. Each platform provides news, commentaries, and updates that reach different sectors and audiences around the world.  Each platform disseminates information widely and quickly.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.