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August 29, 2010


'Activism 2.0'―Integration of Web Technology and Social Change

college_suzukinaosan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Nao Suzuki, Chief editor of, Director of Biopio Inc.

Changes in the Structure of Media

We have all recently heard the term "Web 2.0." To put it simply, I believe that the structure of media has changed from a pyramid form to an amoeboid form, and its role has also changed, affecting and changing the whole of society.

The popularity of blogs and Twitter are good examples. TV was used to be the top of the media chain, followed by newspapers and leading magazines. "Mini Communication" (meaning communication among limited numbers of people) accounted for such a small part, it was never noticed. People used to basically receive information, and the information moved down this pyramid structure. However, now anyone can transmit information via blogs or Twitter, and people who have real social influence, such as so-called "Alpha Bloggers" (A-list bloggers), are increasing.

A recent news story that has shaken the world is the troubles in Iran. In a situation in which information control is almost total and the existing mass media is not allowed to cover the situation, civilians transmitted their voices to the outside world via social media. They sent out their messages using various technologies, for example, by recording videos on cell phones and uploading them on YouTube, or by posting on Twitter.

The first people who heard their voices were the users of Twitter, and they forwarded the information on to others. During this process, the term "CNN Fail" was born. There were discussions about the way that journalism has now reached a turning point, and the limits of the mass media were exposed by this event. It might be an exaggeration, but I think that the media has become an ecosystem, and new media forms are now being born.

The Solution Is Creativity

The phenomenon of "Web 2.0" goes beyond the mere events of the Internet. Many believe that information is the life blood of civilization, but if the structure of information has changed, the methods for conducting business, social change and solving problems also have to be changed. Thus, for people who want to change the world, this shift represents a major opportunity.

The largest problem facing human civilization now is sustainability. What is sustainability? In the final report Our Common Future compiled by the World Commission on Environment and Development of the United Nations in 1987, sustainability is defined as development that meets the needs of today's generation without destroying the ability to meet the needs of future generations. The concept is therefore quite profound.

There is often a discussion about the needs of future generations being destroyed if we proceed as we are and we have to control ourselves to stop that. However, this definition states that development of sustainability needs to meet the needs of the current generation, and we actually do this anyway. So what can we do to meet the needs of the current generation without destroying the needs of future generations? Thinking about how to untangle the world's various issues, which can at times resemble a ball of spaghetti, is the duty of our generation.

I believe that to solve this problem, "creativity" is the key. Creativity is a quality not only possessed by artists, but by everyone. I define creativity as an effort to try to change the world by creating interesting events, products and systems, or a way of thinking up solutions to solve problems within society.

The Power of 'Activism 2.0'

When underlying forms of media support people's efforts to change society, they have a better chance to solve problems quickly. The possibility of social change using social media is quite high. In fact, this current world trend is now called "Activism 2.0" in the US.

Examples of "Activism 1.0" include the protest movements that have been seen traditionally. Although this approach remains important, the protest mindset can sometime prolong the problem solving process. One of the features of "Activism 2.0" is the "anti-protest" and this type of activity has expanded in various countries, including the US.

The second feature is dispersion. With the previous media structure, the "concourse" paradigm described the idea of making small, individual voices larger, such as collecting one million signatures on a petition or mobilizing 10,000 people to an event. However, for "Activism 2.0," this paradigm is not necessary because people can be linked via the Internet. For example, when someone identifies a social entrepreneur expressing an interesting idea or finds a non-profit organization that is doing good work, this information can be spread to readers quickly via Twitter. People then see these posts and spread the information further. This system, which facilitates social change, has progressed by the technologies associates with "Web 2.0."

In addition, this approach tends to be bottom-up. In top-down approaches, there is an activity leader that calls on people to work toward changing society. In contrast, with a bottom-up approach, individual thoughts of what one wishes to achieve are gathered and autonomously grow from there.

An example of "anti-protest" activities is the so-called "carrot mob," which is also known as the "anti-customer boycott," and in fact, is an activity started by the people who created the term "Activism 2.0."

Their first efforts involved an attempt to encourage supermarkets in San Francisco to be greener. They distributed questionnaires to local supermarkets about how much of their revenues they would be willing to allocate to the introduction of environmental measures, and then selected the supermarket responded with the highest number, 13%. They spread the information via Twitter and YouTube, it spread further by word-of-mouth, resulting in long lines in front of the supermarket, which was then able to sell its entire stock.

As an example of dispersion, there is a social networking service (SNS) called "Kiva." This consists of participants from developing and industrialized countries. This SNS works like this: there is a woman who sells flowers to make a living in Kenya and she posts on the SNS that she cannot afford to travel to a local market. She has to sell flowers to a broker, but the price is not high enough for her to afford sending her children to school. If she had $100, she could go to the market, sell her flowers at a higher price, and this would give her enough so that her children could attend school. So, she asks to borrow $100 on the SNS.

People who read her comment then lend small amounts money, $25 or $50. Once $100 is reached, the money goes to the woman through a local non-governmental organization. The woman then uses the money to go to the market and sell her flowers, she then pays the money back. The outcomes, for example, whether the borrower was able to send her children to school, are then sent by email to those who loaned the money.

The repayment rate for this type of borrowing is high as that seen in major banks, and the system has already lead to several hundred million yen in loans. It does not matter where the people lending or borrowing money live. This is an example that a dispersion system that is significantly changing society.

Anyone Can Be 'Part-Time Revolutionist'

I would now like to discuss an interesting example of what an individual can do. When I was reading posts from overseas on Twitter, I discovered an interesting woman. She said she was a house wife and had four children. She participated in activities related to environmental issues when she was a student, but was now frustrated because she could not do it anymore. So she decided that she would try to change society using Twitter while taking care of her children. I was surprised and kept reading her posts. I quickly found out that she was very skilled at collecting and sending out information. A journalist that saw a news source this woman posted on Twitter actually wrote a story based on the information. Eminent people now follow her posts and she is known as a "charismatic eco Twitterer." I have since discovered that there are many such people out there.

I think this is interesting. In the past, if you wanted to change society, you needed to make sacrifices in your own life, such as quitting your job. That way of life remains important, but many people cannot make that sort of commitment. When I saw the example of this woman, I realized that there is now a great possibility for such people to change society a little at a time.

I recently read a news story that the Tokyo government agreed a free contract for five billion yen with Dentsu Inc. from the Olympic bidding budget of 15 billion yen. When I posted on the link on Twitter, many people forwarded it and I saw it ripple out. Some people added more information or their opinions and a discussion occurred quickly. I made only a short post while walking to the station to attend my friend's wedding, but it fascinated me that I could share the problem with many people. At present, everyone can change the world as a "part-time revolutionist" even if you are a student or working full-time.

Finally, I would like to share one of my favorite quotations.

"When aspiring citizens gather, they can change the world. There is no other way to change the world."

The present social systems came from people's ideas, and a new idea that someone has today, might one day become reality. When I see the recent trends in social media, I strongly believe that a few people can lead to big changes. I hope that you all decide to use social media to help improve the world.


Nao Suzuki was born in Bangkok in 1976 and moved to Tokyo when he was six years old. Beginning in 2002, he edited the monthly magazine Sotokoto for three years. After becoming independent, he started in 2006 with the theme of "A sustainable and exciting future is coming." In 2008, he established Biopio Inc., and has since been working for creative activities, including directing and consulting for projects with themes related to the environment and sustainability. His goal is to change society to become more sustainable and dynamic through business and media.


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