Food, Social Media & Blame


Today is World Food Day. It is also Blog Action Day. To celebrate these two events I and several hundred other bloggers are posting about food. I should warn you now, I’m going to get to that only after I’ve told you a little bit about what I did last week – it all links up, I promise.

Last week I attended an event hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and World Food Programme (WFP) in which a bunch of media, charity and activist types got together and talked about how social media is something of a game changer for us do-gooders. Below is a Storify of my tweets from the day as a brief overview of the panel discussion/Q & A that made up the first half of the day.

View “Social Media for Humanitarian Change” on Storify

There were some good tips about how to maximise the influence of your social media throughout the day as well as some good sites to check out. There were two good points about online content that I think are worth noting:

  • Personalise your message – make sure people know who is giving your charity’s message so they know who they can ask about it (SOCIAL media, not new media). If there isn’t the possibility of conversation you’re doing it wrong.
  •  Don’t go on and on about what you’re doing. Talk about a)what the problem is and b) what the solutions are.

While this was good information, the debate was mostly sidetracked by a three way blame battle between the activists, the agencies and the media people on the panel. There were a couple of techies who I thought were largely blameless in the eventual back and forth between those who were for WFP and those who were against – for the record, Marieme Jamme (the activist) and Greg Barlow (from WFP) were the main culprits. The debates between pro and anti aid advocates are interesting (I have a planned blogpost covering them) but it was a little out of place on the day.

I know, this is a pretty impressive graphic

It seems to me that events like World Food Day are sort of doomed to slip by most people’s attention. They tend to be run by the Big Boys (e.g. WFP) and thus invoke the ire of bottom-up activists – the message is already divided amongst do-gooders. While one set believes in the campaigns another set talks about how misguided they are. The media is left without a clear way of deciding what story to tell and, largely, go ahead and ignore the whole mess. Can we blame them?

This is where social media needs to come in. With platforms designed for sharing and promoting discussion now readily available for huge amounts of the world’s population (particularly with the explosion of cheap smartphones in developing countries) it is online that consensus must be reached – the only place it can be reached. People are starting to expect inclusion, to regard anything less than interaction and discussion as sub-par.

It’s up to all of us to ensure that those one-sided, out of touch, top down ways of communicating are condemned to the past. And it’s things like Blog Action Day, open to everyone and demanding only the briefest mention of food to be involved, that can do that.

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