Talking Social Media And Twitter At The Personal Democracy Forum

During the afternoon session at the Personal Democracy Forum today, we sat in on one panel about citizen journalism and another focused on organizing and fundraising using Twitter.

The first panel of the afternoon was moderated by The Nation‘s Ari Melber and featured social media experts Amanda Michel of, NPR’s Andy Carvin, Twittervision’s Dave Troy and Andrew Turner of GeoCommons.

The panel discussed using crowd sourcing and citizen journalists to report and develop stories. These tools were the key to covering stories like the 2008 election cycle and the inauguration festivities. The group talked about why citizens want to get involved, deciding that involvement can be attributed to many different factors, from political motivation, curiosity or just to check where tax dollars are being spent.

“Sometimes imminent danger motivates people,” Carvin said, adding that more than 500 people volunteered to report news and information for NPR in the days leading up to Hurrican Gustav’s landing last year.”But I can’t get people on board a hurricane project for this year until there is a storm about to hit.”

Michel, who worked for the Huffington Post’s Off the Bus project during the election last year, said that although she needs to check information from politically motivated sources carefully, sometimes they make the best sources.

“It needs to be an issue they care about — either they or their friends or family is involved — something there to pull them in,” agreed Turner. “They are not going to get involved just because it’s in front of them.”

(Photo: Melber, Turner, Michel, Troy and Carvin talk citizen journalism)

The panel also briefly touched on the impact of Twitter, especially during the recent turmoil in Iran. They agreed that getting information from Twitter can be useful. But readers have to be skeptical of where the information is coming from, Carvin said. Without the filter of a traditional media factchecking or editing process, sometimes misleading or patently false information can get passed around and taken to be true.

The next panel we attended was moderated by Abrams Research’s Rachel Sklar, who welcomed political strategist David All, PDF senior editor Allison Fine and Twestival founder Amanda Rose.

The group discussed various ways they use Twitter and other social media to organize grassroots movements, campaign for political candidates and raise money for nonprofit organizations.

“It’s all about creativity and being aggressive,” All said.

Both Fine and Rose cautioned against trying to duplicate the success of grassroots movements like Twestival. “People want to go to the store and buy a Twestival, take it home and open it up and just have it work,” Fine said. “It doesn’t work like that. You have to ask ‘How do we managed distributed networks that happen to take place on Twitter and Facebook?’ You have to use network weaving skills.”

For Rose, it was all about using online media to promote real life events and gatherings. “I used people who were strong [on Twitter] in various cities to Tweet about [the Twestival] because I knew they would be connected to people in the real world,” she said.

The panel agreed that there are many people out there that are willing to donate their time and skills to a cause, but they don’t know how to go about it. “They want to do more than write a check,” Fine explained. “The more we ask of them, the more they do…There is this pent up demand for meaningful donations.”