I don’t generally meet a stranger. Ask my friends. Not that I don’t meet new people, I meet them all the time, but I generally make quick work of finding out who they are and what they are about. That does not translate for my social media personality.
When my supervisor originally asked me to start a Twitter account so I could be engaged in the world of social media more than with Facebook (which was all the craze back in the day), I was hesitant. I am not one for short remarks in any fashion, preferring rather to have my say in long paragraphs. But not wanting to “miss out” on the newest social media craze, I started my Twitter, wrote a few tweets, and then promptly forgot about it. I would check on it from time to time, but saw nothing that would make me believe that THIS was the communication tool of the future. I had 15 followers, all friends, who, out of the goodness in their hearts, had followed my pitiful attempt at tweeting to make me feel better.
So many months and only a handful of tweets later, my Twitter account sat largely unused and forgotten. But then something happened. As I was trolling (real term) around on Tumblr to try to find things to repost for our youth website CarolinaTeenHealth.org, I found a tweet from an actor. Not an uncommon find on Tumblr, and I read it. This actor was participating in the UNICEF “Live Below the Line” challenge where people are asked to live on food for under $1.50 a day. This was to increase awareness and change attitudes for the millions of people in the world who live below the poverty line every day. As someone who grew up below the poverty line, this project intrigued me, as did the names attached to the “pace setter” campaign of “Live Below the Line.” Actors, models, celebrities-all giving up eating at high-priced restaurants and leaving the Starbucks alone was quite admirable in many ways, especially in an occupation where “appearance is everything.” I wanted to find out more, so I went to this actors Twitter page to see how he was raising awareness (and money) during this project.
When I got there, I realized that this project, and more specifically, his undertaking of the project, was dividing his very large fan base (when I arrived on his page, I was not remiss in noticing his almost 500,000 followers -- I still had only 30). Some folks were encouraged that he was doing something “so selfless” while others were appalled at the gall of this well-heeled young man taking something on that could only be seen as a poor attempt at living “below the line.” After all, didn’t he still have a very nice home, a very nice car, and a very nice actor’s salary?
I cannot say what possessed me to do it, but I wanted to help. I wanted to give him some information that he could actually use to inform what his actions were, how they could be really effective given the right talking points, and educate him on how to truly make a difference if he were really interested in making a change in the world.
So I tweeted him. Little old me, in the middle of South Carolina, to a man living in London and making movies I had seen in movie theatres. I sent him a tweet about the documentary Unnatural Causes, which describes in detail how health disparities are directly related to wealth disparities. And then I waited. For what to happen, I don’t know.
As a day passed, I realized that when someone has 500,000 followers, the chances of them seeing your actual tweet sent to them is minimal, and probably idiotic, but I had done it. And that made me feel empowered. They say, “reach one, teach one” and I had done that. Through no fault of my own, my message may have been lost, but I had tried to get information out there. It was then that I decided to make a point to send this actor a resource to educate himself about poverty, programs to end poverty, and the importance of research & data, to, as I said in my tweets, “#makethemoneywork.” So for five days, I tweeted an ACTOR with TED talks, links to articles, and anything else I thought might help him make a difference with his campaign.
In the end, he never retweeted my resources or replied, but I realized that it didn’t matter. I had found my social media voice. And it was one that I could use to educate anyone who would listen about matters that were important to me. I found my voice in my passion for causes and my desire to change the world.
This is what we need to teach our young people about social media. Yes, Facebook is a great way to keep up with friends, and Twitter is an amazing tool to find out about the goings on in the world with up to the SECOND coverage. But using your voice to share your passion and your beliefs, is one of the best ways to use social media. Our young people’s voices are as important as ours to be shared on social media. And mine, mine was as important as an actor’s.
I write to you now and am happy to say I have recently passed the 200 tweet mark on my twitter account. Not all of them have been educational, some have just been funny. But my 67 follower family seems to be responding, and I can’t wait to see how many I can reach from here.