News you can use

When citizens of the world have a voice

The United Nations estimated in January 2011 that two billion people were using the Internet. About 300 million have since joined them.

With about one-third of the world's population accessing a global communications network, exchanging thoughts and ideas, it will soon be hard to imagine how we built functioning democracies without it.

Zach White

A recent video from advertising firm Leo Burnett Worldwide describes a campaign to save a library in Troy, Mich., their Detroit office worked on.

According to the video, the local library was having financial difficulty, as many libraries recently have.

When the local city council proposed a .7 percent tax increase to keep the library open, a vocal opposition group launched a campaign focusing on the tax increase alone and gained traction.

The advertising firm pondered how to shift the conversation back to what the tax increase was for and making people think about the value of the library.

They began planting signs that read "Vote to close Troy Library Aug. 2nd Book burning party Aug. 5th," followed by a link to a Facebook page for the book burning party.

The Facebook page posted videos of small piles of books burning to get people excited for the main event, listing a band being booked and fliers for babysitters to watch attendees' kids while they join the bibliophobic pyrophilia festival.

The video shows tweets and Facebook comments, in which community members express their outrage over the book burning and coming out in favor of the library.

The tax increase was eventually found to be worth the cost and approved.

Another story of cyber-outrage affecting local policy has been developing in Scotland recently.

Starting on May 8, 9-year-old Scottish student Martha Payne began taking pictures of her school lunches and writing reviews.

Riding the wave of popular conversation about children's diets, the blog, called Never Seconds, quickly gained a lot of popularity, with social media shares carrying the story around the world.

While the blog, and the attention it gathered, initially brought changes to the school, which began serving more fruits and vegetables, last week Payne said that her school had told her she was not allowed to bring her camera into the cafeteria anymore to take pictures of her lunches.

When she posted that on her blog, all those supporters she'd gathered were not happy.

They flooded the local council's email and Twitter account with demands for an explanation. It became a national news story.

The council initially posted a response defending their decision because the blog posts "have led catering staff to fear for their jobs."

"The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the 'never seconds' blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing," the press release said. "In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the Council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen."

Many were not satisfied and continued to demand that Payne be re-allowed to continue documenting her experiences.

Three hours later the leader of the council, Rod McCuish, went on BBC radio to change and clarify his position, before releasing a statement that started:

"There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader. I have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council's policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the 'Neverseconds' blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity."

The charity mentioned above was Mary's Meals, which Payne set up to help children's school diets in the third world. Payne encouraged supporters to contribute when the ban looked to be ending Never Seconds.

Payne set a goal of around $11,000 on Thursday to build a new kitchen for a school in Malawi. By noon Friday, donations had exceeded $60,000, with hundreds more being added by the minute.

There is strength in numbers, enough to help a young girl overcome her school administration's restrictions, with enough left over to build several kitchens for other hungry children across the globe.

We've always been in this together, on this weird little rock in the middle of nowhere, but now our connections are becoming more literal and obvious every day.


Reader Comments(0)