THUNDERCLAP – Is “the louder, the better” when it comes to social activism?

What is Thunderclap? Thunderclap is the world’s first ever crowd-speaking platform. It significantly increases the social reach of campaigns by posting the same message from many social media accounts at the same time. In terms of  numbers, Thunderclap has launched over 3 million campaigns since 2012, reaching more than 3.5 billion people in 238 countries. Mainstream campaigns are mostly about civic activism and charity.

But what is so special about it? What is great about the internet nowadays is that anyone has a voice. However, it has become hard for people to be heard over all that digital noise when they need to speak out for a cause they really care about. Thunderclap solves this problem by essentially working like a megaphone- it joins voices and shouts out your message. Thunderclap’s founder, developer David Cascino, took inspiration from the “human megaphone” technique used by Occupy Wall Street protesters:

“It was like getting punched in the face. I realised there was no way to do this exact thing online. There was no way that people could band together to amplify a message. I saw an opportunity that I had to fill.”

Initially a project within the global advertisement giant Droga5, Thunderclap eventually evolved into a separate company; today it counts with a tiny but  “thunderous crew” based in NY.

To create a Thunderclap you just need to visit the website, connect with your social media account and invite followers to support your cause. If you reach the pre-set number of followers within the deadline, the message is sent from all the accounts simultaneously.

Basically, anyone can create a Thunderclap, it is free and easy to use. Behind some of the most successful campaigns are brands and creative business, institutions and governments, like the White House, the UN and the UK Labour party, but also ordinary people with great ideas, like Dutch designer Dave Hakkens. The largest campaign in Thunderclaps’s history, #Phoneblocks calls for awareness over e-waste by launching the idea of a phone designed to last for a lifetime- the separable blocks which make the phone can be easily substituted when they stop working. However, the site also offers different customised paid plans to maximise the campaign’s reach and some worry that Thunderclap might be heading in the wrong direction and become just another advertisement tool. Notable brands like Discovery Channel, BBC, Durex and Levi’s have used the platform to advocate for relevant causes, like HIV, the extinction of sharks and the right to education. On the other hand, Thunderclap has also lent his voice to less charitable causes. For example, it helped generating enthusiasm before the revelation of 2012 People (magazine) sexiest man alive. Still, Thunderclap’s team insist that the most successful campaigns are the ones related to social activism because they connect people to a cause emotionally and, for now, numbers tell the same story.

There are some practical downsides as well. In order to support a Thunderclap people need to connect to the platform via other social media, like Facebook or Twitter, and especially be willing to give consent to Thunderclap to post on their behalf. Besides, timing is crucial. The “all-in” philosophy of Thunderclap means that if your Thunderclap fails to reach the target of supporters, it is as if it never existed. None of the donations are received by the organisers. Plus, if your message does make it to the walls of millions, you still have to take into account that only reach those who are connected at that moment.

But what we really should be asking ourselves is this – is louder really better when it comes to social activism? It can be a double-edged sword. Most certainly there is the danger that engagement to campaigns is only temporary and superficial. Let’s not forget that Thunderclap reaches friends of friends on social media. Some may share just because it is cool and then forget about it. Once the Thunderclap is sent out, the campaign is considered “completed” and people move on supporting other things while much more needs to be done to operate change for real. Another way to find an answer to this, is try assessing the impact these campaigns have had. Not an easy task for, unlike for example change.org, Thunderclap is designed to spread a message, rather than achieve it. Thus far, Thunderclap’s case studies only measure campaign’s effectiveness. Besides, it is too early to tell whether the campaigns have the potential to determine change. The phenomenon is recent and many factors come into play. Yet, one way to quantify the impact more concretely is to have a look at the role of social media in allocating donations for non-profit organisations. Donations to non-profits have achieved change in some instances. A survey performed by the 2014 Case Foundation found that even though emails and websites still rule as tools of engagement compared to social media, the gap is closing. Social media is growing 3 times faster than email.

All things considered, the social media storm can create an invaluable window of opportunity. It is thanks to Thunderclap as well if Motorola, Sennheiser and others are working on prototypes of the #Phoneblocks right this moment. Let’s think twice before disdaining social media activism so easily precisely because it is social media, hence, no place for “serious discussions”. It would be great if more people used it this way! By capitalising on today´s dependence on social media, Thunderclap is a creative way to involve people- especially the youth- into civic activism and social responsibility. Thunderclap is not perfect, but it can be a significant push in the right direction. Ultimately, we cannot always expect a software to do it all.

[Alice]

The publication was performed in the framework of the project “PROVIDUS – a partner of state in policy planning and policy making process“.

Project is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in framework of NGO Activity Support Measure.

NGO Activity Support Measure is financed with financial support from EEA Financial Mechanism and Republic of Latvia.

www.sif.lv

www.eeagrants.lv

www.eeagrants.org

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