The tide of social stigmas and activism

As I poked around the sites of the top political tax-exempt organizations (527s) listed on, I wondered if the individual websites are still the most relevant portal for researchers to use when examining political activism. The largest organizations have clean and comprehensive sites, but little interaction with its members. Instead, I found most of the member-input on the social networking pages of the organizations (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). The next time we examine political activism, should we tun our attention to social networking?

Finally, though, I chose and thoroughly dissected the website of EMILY’s List.  This organization promotes Democratic candidates with a pro-choice agenda. I used a combination of OpenSecrets and the organization’s “About” pages to learn more. The group has been around since 1985 and raised more than $81 million for candidates, its site said. Today, its members number more than 623,000.

My Internet search also yielded two interesting facts about the organization: 

  1. EMILY stands for “early money is like yeast.”
  2. The Container Store is one of the top contributors to the 527, with $92,000 . I thought containers were just containers.

On this site, the members make themselves known by signing up for an e-mail list. Visitors to the site are also expected to contribute cash. This is the same member process as MoveOn. Much of the types of content are also comparable, such as information about the supported candidates, propaganda about the organization’s success, and encouragement to visit the social networking pages of the organizations. If anything, I think EMILY’s List provides more content on its website than MoveOn. Specifically, there are pages dedicated to training people in activism, blogs by the organization leaders, and information about moving the activism from “armchairs to the streets” (Rohlinger & Brown, 137).

While the interviewees in the Rohlinger & Brown study talked extensively about the benefits of anonymity regarding their activism, I don’t see that present in either the MoveOn or EMILY’s List sites. This is especially true on the Facebook pages of both organizations, where comments appear with your name unmasked by a handle. For instance on a status update made yesterday on the Facebook page EMILY’s List, there were more than 500 “likes” and 23 comments. Comparatively, there weren’t any comments posted to the three entries of the official EMILY’s List blog. And, posted to the latest entry of EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock blog was just one comment left relatively anonymously with a simple signature of “Renee.”

I don’t think this contradiction can be explained away by a difference in social perception of the ideologies of the two organizations. I think it is safe to say that the progressives of MoveOn have the same stigmas and detractors as a group that promote pro-choice women candidates. Maybe the fear of expressing unpatriotic thoughts has decreased since the time of the Rohlinger & Brown study?

  1. #1 by sadiecone10 on October 17, 2010 - 2:33 pm

    I think the fear of expressing unpatriotic thoughts has definitely decreased since the time of the Rohlinger and Brown study. The organization I chose, Project Vote Smart, required members to provide their names, addresses, and credit card information so that they could pay the required membership fee. This, obviously, eliminates anonymity. There were also a number of Twitter and Facebook followers and fans who had their names prominently displayed when they commented or “liked” something regarding Project Vote Smart. I think maybe people are more likely to express dissenting opinions now because it is 9 years removed from the events of 9/11, and the presidential administration today is more tolerant of differing opinions.

  2. #3 by Kayley Thomas on October 21, 2010 - 7:58 pm

    I find it interesting that you drew some of your information from sites other than the “official” site – so much of any person or organization’s online presence is divided between different sources, potentially representing different parts of itself (and maybe leaving out others). In this case, it helped you flesh out your view of EMILY’s List. It also showed you who it reaches out to and how – and to what effect.

    Of all the people who clicked a “like” button on Facebook to show support, I wonder how many participate in more involved on- or offline activist? Do they post more detailed comments? Do they re-post links? What does online activism look like, and how much risk – and effort – is involved in being a Facebook member of an activist group? There seems to be obvious evidence of identification and support associated with people’s names but maybe not real action/activism. This leaves us with not only how do online activism organizations translate into real-world action but how does it translate into meaningful online action?

  3. #4 by Mindy McAdams on December 18, 2010 - 8:10 pm

    Good point: “I found most of the member-input on the social networking pages of the organizations (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). The next time we examine political activism, should we tun our attention to social networking?” I did not really think about this, but it’s true that websites tend to be more informational — like a big press kit.

  4. #5 by Mindy McAdams on December 18, 2010 - 8:21 pm

    Your three comments, as well as your main post for this assignment, were very good. I have the sense that you liked this topic. You might want to consider doing some kind of in-depth study of activist or political-cause websites — possibly comparing websites and Facebook pages!

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