The EITI and Social Media

<p><strong>The last few weeks I have been working on a project for the EITI Secretariat. The project has been to create a first draft of a "Social Media Strategy" for the EITI, helping the Secretariat begin their journey into the world of hyper-communication and user generated content. This is my summary.</strong></p>

<h4 style="font-weight: 800;">The World of Social Media</h4>

<p>Social media is quite simply collectively created content, be it knowledge, information, art, or any other forms of media. It can be argued, of course, that social media has existed for a long time. Folk tales, music, and dances can certainly be described as "collectively created content", having been shared and retold across generations. Nevertheless, the term "social media" applies primarily to content created in the digital age. Social media can therefore be seen as an emergent property of the digitalization of communication, and its appearance is coupled to the development of the internet.</p>

<p>The term "social media" thus encompasses everything from jointly authored <a href="http://www.wikipedia.org">Wikipedia</a> articles, the republishing of old books through <a href="http://www.gutenberg.org">Project Gutenberg</a>, user generated news updates, the blog posts of an anonymous women from a rooftop in Teheran, <a href="http://twitpic.com/135xa">the first picture of the Hudson River plane crash</a> tweeted by a guy with a camera phone, the contributions to the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickworkers">NASA Clickworker project</a>, to the mashup videos on YouTube by people like <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/kutiman">Kutiman</a> and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/cappapie">Norwegian Recycling</a>, as well as all the pictures and illustrations uploaded to the <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org">Wikimedia Commons</a> with Creative Commons licenses.</p>

<p>The essence of social media can therefore be summarized in the words <em>participation</em>, <em>leveling</em>, <em>sharing</em>, and <em>personal presence</em>. First of all, the essence of social media is participation. Instead of increasing the degree to which we are amusing ourselves to death, in the words of Neil Postman, we are increasing our level of participation in the continual recreation of our own culture and our own society.</p>

<p>However, this outburst of participation does not belie the fact that the social hierarchy we already know is rather closely duplicated on the internet. Indeed, most celebrities have millions of followers on Twitter. The internet is still far from being equal. But the participation introduced by social media is leveling the playing field, because it enables a much wider array of people to participate. One example is how the internet gives you the opportunity to publish without the approval of a publisher. After all, as the old New Yorker cartoon cleverly has it, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog".</p>

<p><center>
<img src="/UserFiles/SocialMedia/images/Dog.jpg" alt="On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" title="On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" />
</center></p>

<p>To enable this leveling of the playing field, the participation social media entails is dependent upon sharing. Actually, it is impossible to participate without sharing. Sharing is the essence of participation. By sharing content, however, we also enable other people to build on top of what we have created. Neither the creation of information, knowledge, or art has ever been a single-person venture. We have always climbed up and stood on other people's shoulders.</p>

<p>Last, but not least, is personal presence. Social media is characterized by the high level of personal presence. While traditional media resembles a production line where content is created by few to be consumed by many, social media resembles a conversation. Indeed, social media can be said to be the content that is created while people are conversing online.</p>

<h4 style="font-weight: 800;">The EITI Conversations</h4>

<p>The EITI is an initiative to institutionalize a mechanism for the publication of information that is likely to help fight corruption in extractive industries by creating a greater public awareness about revenues and taxes. As such, it can be argued that the main objective of the EITI initiative is simply to empower people to talk about transparency and corruption in extractive industries.</p>

<p>This objective is not always recognized, despite the fact that it is fairly common in international organizations in general. The value of the public debate, and of empowering people to participate in the conversation, is often played down. Insofar as the only tangible result of the EITI process is the publication of an EITI report, the recognition of the conversation as the main objective is especially appropriate in the case of the EITI. After all, the report has no value in itself. Its only value comes from the public debate it enables, and the potential legal and political changes this debate leads to.</p>

<p>Even a basic social media strategy should therefore build on an analysis of the public debate on transparency in extractive industries. In the EITI's case, three stages, or conversations, can be identified: The first conversation is the international debate regarding transparency in general, what the EITI should be like, and so on. This conversation blends into the second conversation, which is the technical debate on implementation issues. The conclusion of the technical debate is the publication of the EITI reports in each country, which sparks the third conversation --- the national debate. These national debates are not confined to the original countries for long, however. Rather, they cross national borders and blend into and renews the first conversation --- the international debate regarding transparency in general. At this point, we have a circle of EITI conversations.</p>

<p><center>
<a href="/UserFiles/SocialMedia/images/Conversations.png"><img src="/UserFiles/SocialMedia/images/Conversations-Small.jpg" alt="Diagram illustrating the EITI conversations" title="Diagram illustrating the EITI conversations" /></a>
</center></p>

<h4 style="font-weight: 800;">The EITI and Social Media</h4>

<p>Covering the parliamentary election in Norway, newspapers quoted a poll saying that the typical voter did not care much about Twitter and social media. Only a fraction of the respondents had changed their minds because of Twitter. Framing the question like this misses the bigger picture, however. The value of social media is not measured in how many people have changed their minds based on tweets. The value of social media lies in the improvement in the quality of the public debate. With an increase in the use of social media, politicians will make better decisions because they are able to discuss the issues more directly with people. Moreover, the voters will know more about the actual positions of different politicians as their opinions are not diffused through a reinterpretation of a journalist. In addition to this, the civil society will be better informed and more engaged due to the empowering nature of social media.</p>

<p>The simplest and most straightforward reason an organization like the EITI should get involved in social media is the fact that content creation, discussion and communication has shifted away from traditional media toward social media. The goal of a basic social media strategy should simply be to mimic this shift.

<p>To an organization like the EITI, the most relevant aspect of social media is the way it enables and empowers people to participate in the public debate and the EITI conversations. Keeping in mind the fact that the main objective of the EITI initiative is to empower people to talk about transparency and corruption in extractive industries by creating a greater public awareness about revenues and taxes, the appearance of social media has created large opportunities for the initiative.</p>

<p>It has therefore been my recommendation that the EITI Secretariat utilize the enormous potential that lies in social media, and create accounts on web sites such as <a href="http://twitter.com/EITIorg">Twitter</a>, <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/EITI/182289264273">Facebook</a>, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eiti">Flickr</a>, <a href="http://www.slideshare.net/EITI">SlideShare</a>, and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/EITIorg">YouTube</a>. The EITI should take this opportunity to participate in the public debate on transparency in extractive industries, both the digitalized and the traditional, by sharing their information, knowledge, and expertise.</p>

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<p><em>Sverre Andreas Lunde-Danbolt has done consultant work for the EITI Secretariat since the beginning of this year. He has experience as a computer programmer from the University of Agder, and specializes in issues regarding the role of participation and accessibility of information. He holds an MA in intellectual history from the University of Oslo.</em></p>