Archive for December, 2009

Say it to my face!: Anonymity, Sexism and Social Networks

I recently signed up to try the current social network craze, Formspring takes Facebook’s Honesty Box a step further, allowing people to submit questions to ask you either anonymously or not. I’ve never been into the Honesty Box because I wasn’t that pressed to find out what people think about me; I come from the school of thought that says: “if you got something to say about me, say it to my face.”

But, the straight forward Q&A nature of Formspring really intrigued me. I find that Twitter moves too fast sometimes to allow for a pure Q&A type of discussion. So as other people’s formspring answers showed up on my Twitterfeed, I felt compelled to check it out and see what this particular social network was about.

Most of the questions I got were tame. Lots of people were curious about why I moved to DC from LA, where my parents went to high school since they are both DC natives, what I thought about weaves versus natural hair, what grade I would give President Obama, etc.

Then, about halfway through the q & a, someone asked me my views about pre-marital sex.

Many of you who read my blog know that I support grown adults making decisions about sex for themselves…and for parents to teach their kids the importance of protection and sexual maturity. So I reiterated that in my answer.

But the anonymous questioner didn’t stop there. He (as I am sure this was a man) also began a line of questioning and judgements that would be what many call “sex-shaming”…better known as “slut-shaming.”

Do you think you’ll marry your current boo? (too early to tell…and if I knew I wouldn’t tell someone who insisted on being anonymous)

Oh but you’re already giving it up? For shame! (I’m grown, son. you don’t know my life)

He needs to put a ring on your finger…you need to learn some self-respect!

[Note: this was edited/paraphrased as the original dialogues/questions have been deleted so as not to give power to sexist, judgmental, and dogmatic behavior]


I was hurt… I was being triggered. I felt like my relationship was being questioned by people who don’t even know me nor my partner. And I was being bullied for no reason at all.

I am not the first woman to experience sexist attacks on the internet and/or social networks. One thing about social networking platforms that allow for anonymous or semi-anonymous posting/reactions….and some people use these spaces for more harm than good.

from The WareHouse (@carolinaware):

We all type things that others may not want to see sometimes. It happens. Now you DO HAVE THE OPTION NOT TO HAVE IT STREAM to your Twitter/Facebook and not to answer all the questions. The only problem with the latter is that you have some people who LOVE TO START SHIT and will be asking questions they shouldn’t. You don’t answer and ignore it, then they step from behind the shadows..Now if they had to ask you behind the mask, then they probably shouldn’t have been asking anyway and….well…you get the picture right?

This all very true indeed. But I still believe that this issue is complicated by gender. What learned from my own experiences and observation of the way Formspring works is that women are more likely to be asked rude and/or offensive questions than men are. In fact, one of my male followers made the point that most men would never have to to deal with the kind of questions and implications that I or other women (cis or trans) would have to deal with in online spaces.

Too often we are told that the internet is a playground for boys and a dangerous place for girls…but as long as we have d-bags who are using the internet in sexist, racist, and/or misogynistic and transmisogynistic ways, I worry that we still have a ways to go before the telling of this story changes.

So what do you all think? Does the anonymity of the internet allow more room for sexism and other forms of oppression? What can be done to change this?


#PRFail: Chase’s Transparency Mishaps

an Open letter to Chase about their Community Giving Initiative from by Nathaniel Whittemore of

Dear JP Morgan & Chase,

You’ve recently made waves in the social change community with your Chase Community Giving initiative, a $5 million Facebook giveaway contest. Unfortunately, you’ve also demonstrated some pretty bonehead anti-transparency tendencies which have hurt your brand with exactly the people you were supposed to be getting excited. Further, you’ve demonstrated a lack of understanding about how nonprofits really work. You’ve got an awesome opportunity to literally be the coolest contest there has ever been, but you’ve got some work to do.

First, lets be clear about your motivations for the $5 million giveaway. It is almost certainly true that your staff care about community involvement and giving something back. It is also almost certainly true that your marketing department and leadership determined that that caring, combined with the distribution power of the internet, could be great for brand building at a time when banks are somewhere between sour milk and sinus infections in the public eye. In short, Chase cares, and they *really* want us to know about it.

This is pretty much the way branding efforts around doing good happen. A genuine interest in doing good comes together with a genuine interest in the ability to sell the company as one that cares about good, and it happens. The key is making sure that the marketing actually reflects the company’s practice – or perhaps the other way around.

You have committed two major boo-boos with potentially far ranging consequences for the success of your branding efforts. Both of them belie a problematic anti-transparency that just doesn’t work in the digital world, and a fundamental lack of understanding of the real cost of nonprofit work.

Boo-Boo #1: No Leaderboard

The first mistake you made was that you didn’t have a public leaderboard. The contest was all about getting the most votes, and your calculation was, I’m sure, that if groups knew their total but didn’t know how their total compared to others, they would push harder and harder. To take it even farther, you actually took down individual charity’s totals with a few days to go to “build excitement among the broadest number of participants.”

Chase, I don’t know if you’re reading, but let me be clear about something:

This made you look like jerks.

Sorry, it had to be said. By not having a public leaderboard, you demonstrated your lack of understanding of the cost to nonprofits of a) the time it takes to ask people to do things for you and b) the social capital cost of asking for favors. Your lack of this one piece of transparency made groups go out on a limb to research their competition (which took an immense amount of time away from the good work that they do outside of their fundraising apparatus) and put them in the unenviable position of having to ask people to help without clear information about how likely that help was to actually achieve anything. All those groups that didn’t win actually probably lost some good will.

Read the rest here

The moral of the story is this: while social media is in many ways an “open” form of communication, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. It also doesn’t mean that there there aren’t any rules of engagement, which Chase did not follow during their Community Giving campaign.

In any contest driven by the use of social media  there needs to be clear rules that lay out who all the players are, and what the process is for qualifying or not qualifying. It is also up to the company in question to let people know where they stand at every stage of the competition…if that is really what this campaign was about. It’s been argued that the whole Community Giving campaign was really just an advertisement for chase…which is another post and another story entirely.

In my last post, I talked about the recent study that companies that use social media are more successful…but perhaps we need to also take a look at how responsible companies are when using social media to create a base or to attract partnerships with non-profit organization in the name of being “good corporate citizens.”

Surprise! For many orgs, Social Media=more success

Image courtesy of Bio Job Blog

A recent study shows that organizations that use social media are more financially successful than those that don’t. There’s been some talk about what this means for corporate companies and non-profit organizations as well.

Organizations that were measured to have the greatest depth and breadth of social media engagement grew company revenues by an average of 18 percent of the past 12 months. Companies that showed little engagement or interest in social media experienced an average decrease in company revenues of six percent.

The study, ENGAGEMENTdb: Ranking the Top 100 Global Brands, reviewed how the top 100 most valuable brands (as identified by the 2008 BusinessWeek/Interbrand Best Global Brands rankings) use more than 10 different social media channels, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, wikis and discussion forums. The study examined the width and breadth of each organization’s social media use, and scores for overall brand engagement ranged from a high of 127 to a low of 1. The top ten brands with their social engagement scores are:

  • Starbucks (127)
  • Dell (123)
  • eBay (115)
  • Google (105)
  • Microsoft (103)
  • Thomson Reuters (101)
  • Nike (100)
  • Amazon (88)
  • SAP (86)
  • Tie – Yahoo!/Intel (85)

As a pr and social media professional, I have worked primarily with non-profit and social justice organizations, The findings from this study was no surprise to me, but it begged the question: what does this mean for non-profits? How important is social media to the way we raise money, recruit volunteers and most of all, build our base?

Rosetta Thurman has a few answers:

The web has created new and low-cost options to get the word out about your organization. This new study just goes to show that if you want to achieve maximum success in the work you do, social media will have to become part of your communications strategy with clients, donors and customers. If your organization is not yet engaged in social media, now is the time. Seriously.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending the Women Action and the Media Conference. It was a great place to meet and network with other young women activists from across the country, and there were a lot of panels devoted to the impact of social media–especially blogs and viral video–to the women’s movement. I really loved how intentional the Center for New Words was with keeping developments in social media at the forefront. I was really excited to see how WAM! would integrate a social media strategy into future conferences.

And then, around August of this year, I learned that the Center for New Words was phasing out and that Women, Action, and the Media would become an independent organization. I’m excited for this new development, but the pr/social media nerd makes me wonder how big of a roll will social media play in this transition. How will they keep conference goers engaged in the next steps of the organization? How can people get involved as donors or volunteers?

Having a good mission, vision, and tool$ to form an organization are all important, but just as important is building a base and using a variety of strategies to make that base strong, and diverse.  It can also keep past conference-goers connected to WAM’s mission…and keep them coming back to see what the organization’s next moves will be.

Bottom line, building and maintaining a base–a community of supporters–should be just as important as building all the other aspects of a non-profit.

(h/t: Rosetta Thurman)

Precious Part 2 – When “feel good” branding goes wrong

My second post devoted to the movie Precious was going to be about how Tyler Perry should consider leaving the director’s chair alone for a while and funding more smaller projects by black directors other than himself. It could really show Hollywood the real scope of his power.

Then I started seeing the new cut for the Precious Ad. I couldn’t find a video to show you all (but if you can find it hit me up!), but in summary it is basically a mashup of all of the main character’s happy daydreams with Mary J’s “Just Fine” playing in the background.


Now I understand the idea of marketing and doing whatever it takes to get more people to pay money and see the movie, and I realize that it’s the way that business works.

But what I didn’t understand was the complete 180 that was made in the marketing of this movie. I read Push well before watching the film so I knew not to expect a lot of happy moments. What I worry about are people who have never read the book nor know much about the movie seeing these new ads and expecting the movie to be a happier, more hopeful story. It’s pretty misleading if you ask me.

Some of you know that I’m a PR/media professional by day, and so the media geek in me is wondering if this move by the movie marketers was a good one. Sure, it might get more people to the box office, but what good is it if some folks won’t be informed enough to know not to expect a happy, more hopeful film? To me, this makes as little sense to me as Lee Daniels recent comments.


Some guy came up to me at a screening that I was at recently and he told me that he, um, was sexually abusing his 14-year-old daughter,” said Daniels. “That’s what he told me. And he was crying. To me, that is the award. There is no award on this earth that can get a man to admit that. So to me, that is my award. My award is healing. You know what I mean? I want to be acknowledged or whatever, but I’m happy with people healing.”

There was one thing that was severly lacking from Daniels’ little story: the part where he reported this man to the police. What sense does this make? I hate to think that Daniels was so immersed in his own ego that he didn’t think to do the right thing and PROTECT THAT CHILD.

One criticism of the movie I agree with is that they didn’t give enough space in the film to talk about the social and political implications of WHY Precious lived the way she lived. Why did she think lighter skinned people were more beautiful with lives worth living? Why was she obese? Why did her mother abuse her and allow for her husband to rape his own daughter? None of these questions were answered through a sociopolitical lens, and that to me is a bigger marketing fail than the ads I’ve discussed earlier in this post.

Baby, let’s get tested

…before we get busy.

Prior to dating my current partner, I was in an almost 2 year relationship with someone else. One afternoon when we first started dating, my then-boyfriend asked me if I had recently gotten tested.

At first I got scared. Oh no, I thought. Is he going to tell me he has something? I didn’t want to be rude and ask him the very question I was thinking. I also knew that he was asking for the safety of both of us, and I admired him for that. This was my first relationship after college and while I had gotten tested while in college and also a year prior to us dating, I had never had a significant other ask me if I wanted to get tested together, or at all for that matter.

I let him know when I was last tested. That’s when he said, “I just got tested last week and I wanted to let you know that my results all came back negative.” He even showed me the papers to prove it. For him, getting tested was a good habit, one that he took seriously.  He took my hand and told me that if I was umcomfortable going by myself then he’d go with me. I agreed and the next week, we headed to the clinic.

We actually made a date out of it sorta, which put me at ease since it cut down on my stressing out about what the results would be. As is the case with many people who get tested, you sometimes become nervous right before getting the results. I have always protected myself no matter what, but yet and still I was still racking my brain trying to rememebr if there was any situation that would make me worry that my HIV test would come back positive.

We were in and out of the clinic in an hour if that long, so to take my mind off of my jumpy nerves we ended up spending the whole day together–going out for breakfast, window shopping at the mall. I received my results the following week, all of which came back negative.

I tell this story to let people know that getting tested with your partner isn’t nearly as scary as it seems. If anything, it taught me about trust, and about the power of monogamy. It helped me bond with my partner in a way I hadn’t before.

I absolutely think everyone should take the time to get tested whether they are coupled up or not. But hopefully, getting tested together becomes more of the rule and not the exception, and that more couples catch on to it as a good habit.

If you love them, get tested together. If you like them–or even if you like them like them–get tested together.

Play safe out there, folks.

It’s World AIDS Day

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days, you’d know that today is World AIDS Day. I decided to try something this time and do a short series of posts talking about my experiences with protecting myself, getting tested, and losing people I care about to the disease.

The next two posts will be dedicated to Damon Eskridge, a family friend of mine who shared his story about living with HIV to me and other young people years ago at my church back home in Los Angeles. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I talked about how Damon influenced me and informed what I know about HIV and AIDS along with other STD’s. Damon passed away in December 2000 after a long battle with AIDS.

I am remembering Damon today as I write these next few posts. Thank you, Damon for sharing your story and your light. You are loved and missed.

For those of you in DC and wanting to get tested for HIV today call 202.442.9152 to find the nearest testing location.

Those of you tweeting on twitter about World Aids Day, the official hashtag for world AIDS day is #WAD09.

Shout out to the Red Pump Project, who raise awareness about HIV and AIDS 365 days a year.

BET actually does it right and remembers Black celebrities we’ve lost to AIDS.

Lastly, did you know that trans women are most impacted by AIDS? Get familiar. Many times we forget that more than Black cisgendered women* are trans women who are the most impacted by the disease and yet served the least…because trans women are often rendered invisible by the status quo. Some food for thought.