Flash activists use social media to drum up support

ByABC News
May 5, 2009, 11:25 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the California Supreme Court convenes soon to rule on the constitutionality of a controversial state proposition banning gay marriage, Amy Balliett and thousands of her online friends plan to be heard.

The Seattle-based online marketer is part of a new wave of protesters, called "flash activists," who use an arsenal of social-media tools Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs and Wikis to organize hundreds sometimes thousands of people to gather at events and express their views.

Balliett, 26, won't predict the turnout when the court rules, but she is confident that her protest will create widespread awareness. She's done it before, organizing a protest of 1 million people in 300 cities across 11 countries in mid-November, shortly after California voters passed Proposition 8.

No longer is social networking just for gossiping, hobnobbing or telling your friends what you had for breakfast. Increasingly, it has become an effective communications tool to mobilize masses to effect change in politics, TV and fundraising.

The virtual grass-roots movement comes during an era when President Obama no tech slouch himself as a presidential candidate raised millions of dollars in donations and recruited millions of volunteers through websites and social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Flash activism is "another great way to use our technology to organize people who are fighting passionately for a cause," says Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint, a website-building service used by social activists.

"We used to use phones and faxes. The tools today on the Internet are so much better," says gay-rights activist Robin Tyler. "It's not even close."

To be sure, not every campaign is a slam-dunk. Social causes require more than just snazzy media tools. They need compelling issues, impassioned people and streetwise organization.

"Any social-media push whether it is political or fundraising if you don't believe in what you're saying, it won't work," says Gradon Tripp, co-founder of Social Media for Social Change, whose fundraisers benefit local charities in the USA. "You need a strong base of supporters."