The Social Web: Equality and Rainbows

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When winter arrives, Mother Nature douses San Francisco liberally with rain. She kindly tempers the saturation with a gift – rainbows. The last several weeks have been particularly rife with these pieces of meterological performance art, giving rise to an array of Tweets, Facebook updates and myriad other discussions about how magical they are.

Magical. Persistent images from children’s stories of unicorns, rainbows and the requisite pot of gold come to mind … and I gag. The truth, of course, is that these optical illusions aren’t magic. There’s a perfectly reasonable and utterly proven science to why they occur.

There is, however, still something magical in these Technicolor arcs. Last week during one of the breaks in the rainstorms, I dashed to the park with my dog. The paths were filled with people walking dogs and getting their kids some time at the playground before the rain returned. The sky overhead was that almost impossible shade of blue that comes right after rain. On the horizon, another bank of storms approached, a wall of smoky white and gunmetal gray illuminated by sun. Whipping the ball along the terraced grass, I noticed something. Slicing across the oncoming storm shadow, an almost perfect arc of rainbow. I glanced around, not a single person other than myself had noticed.

You see the magic in rainbows isn’t what makes them, but in noticing that they’re there. This is what the social web has provided for the rainbow that is the LGBT community – a powerful set of tools and platforms through which to be noticed. In the several years since the debacle of Proposition 8, the LGBT community has seized on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to gain visibility, draw attention to way in which to be “noticed”.

Much like the variegated colors of the LGBT community rainbow itself, so too have been the ways in which various groups have approached using these technology platforms. From the subtle and muted tones of the NoH8 Campaign to the more explicit and in-your-face take of FCKH8, from the ongoing Herculean efforts of the Trevor Project to the more recent series of videos posted by companies like Google, Facebook and Pixar in the It Gets Better campaign – voices are rising in a digital chorus bringing attention and awareness to the LGBT community and the challenges of inequality we face.

The last year also brought a substantial step forward in the way off-line efforts were taking advantage of social web technologies to gain awareness and spread the word. When Lt. Dan Choi, recently interviewed exclusively on Dot429 about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, chained himself to the White House fence it wasn’t the news media that first alerted the public. It was Twitter. And it was posts like this one on Towleroad that aggregated multiple social media streams, giving the public a comprehensive view of the goings-on.

All of these examples speak to a greater lesson about the social web. Whatever your purpose – whether activism, business or just plain old personal use – the social web isn’t about the technology. That’s the science. The magic of these platforms and technologies are in how you use them. It’s about engagement. The thing about engagement is that it’s not just about taking your message and splaying it out across the social web. It’s about understanding that in doing so you are implicitly committing to dialogue. By definition, dialogue is between two or more parties, which means while it may be important for the LGBT community to get the word out and gain visibility for our endeavors, it’s equally important to remember that using the social web means being prepared for discourse.

Throughout 2011 we’ll delve more deeply into the social web on Dot429 – bringing perspectives and views on key technologies to know and how to use them. We’ll be profiling key players who are building these technologies as well as people who are taking advantage of the platforms in ways you may want to emulate.

As we move into a New Year, one that is destined to bring further action on the part of opponents of LGBT equality, it’s critical to remember that while we stride forward in building our businesses, establishing visibility and proudly stepping out as members of the LGBT community in all our affairs, we make sure and pay attention. The magic we need to inspire is there, sometimes we just need to look up.

About The Author

What began for me as a career telling other people’s stories has evolved into a journey of helping others tell their stories for themselves. I'm a “classically trained” Journalist whose passion for communications began with my first job ripping wire copy in 1982 and has evolved to encompass nearly every platform and aspect of media – from reporting and editing to broadcast management, talent casting and guest booking. I've also curated content for several of the tech industry’s leading conferences. It was after finding myself engaged as an activist for LGBT equal rights that I began to explore the way in which personal stories inform and influence people’s everyday lives and I began using my tech background to teach people to make these connections of personal stories, using new technologies as the medium. Presently I run my own consulting firm in San Francisco, working with companies and individuals helping them navigate the crowded waterways of new technologies with the express purpose of leveraging these rapidly evolving platforms to tell their stories. Through workshops, seminars and strategic consulting services, I walk clients through the story-telling process and towards the kind of deep engagement that comes from truly authentic communication.

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