In a helpful analysis of the uses of social media by the water protectors at Standing Rock, Ginny Underwood points out how social media were used to tell the story of the people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The analysis was published by United Methodist News Service, the news arm of The United Methodist Church.
Ginny points out how the water protectors used social media strategically to overcome lack of coverage by mainstream media. In doing this, she notes the people were enabled to tell their own story, something that’s been more difficult in the past because of lack of access to media controlled by others.
Key to Success
A key to the success of the resistance was the strategic use of social media to tell a story that for many weeks was not told by mainstream media. The water protectors built a movement through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media from a remote hillside in the middle of the country far from the communication hubs of the established media.
They told a story that was easy to understand and with which anyone could identify. When dogs and rubber bullets were used by local authorities and water cannons turned on the protestors, it was on Facebook within minutes.
Creating a Movement
Out of this communication a movement was built. A movement can defeat the establishment almost every time if it holds together and if it communicates effectively.
There are other components of this story that bear attention.
UMNS published this analysis before any other media outlet recognized the importance of the communication strategy. This is an important and appropriate role for the church’s communication arm to fulfill.
UMNS (for which I once had executive responsibility) should be an authoritative information source for the stories of those without voice, on the margins, and otherwise at a disadvantage in a media environment dominated by big money and big corporations.
It’s not a public relations function that serves on behalf of the church.
Truth-telling Rooted in the Gospel
It is the truth-teller rooted in the church’s claim of the Gospel of Jesus that the truth will set us free.
In the post-truth world of Trump, and the fact-free disinformation of fake news, the mainline religious traditions should be standing in the breach doing truth-telling and fact-finding, and enabling those who lack the capacity to tell their own stories without an assist to do so.
Mainstream electronic media, subject to the greed of corporate executives and the demand for ratings, failed us at truth telling in the past election. Don’t look for this to change.
Mainstream religious institutions have failed and continue to fail to engage the public conversation about just treatment of people, fair wages, economic justice, humane ways to resolve conflict, and the global environmental crisis.
The mainline denominations have decimated their news services. In doing so they have removed their capacity to fulfill one of their most sacred responsibilities, to speak truth to power, and to do what Jesus asked us to do, to identify with the poor and oppressed and to raise our voice on their behalf for justice and equity.
When religious institutions fail to protect us from the principalities and powers, other means must be found. In the DAPL issue, the water protectors are playing that important role.
And it’s important that communicators like Ginny Underwood and services like United Methodist News Service fulfill their responsibilities to tell the stories of the people.
Sacred Stories, Spirit Movement
That’s because these are sacred stories. They will be overlooked by those who serve corporate masters and moneyed interests.
At this moment in global history, there may be no more important role for religious communicators than to be the story-tellers who inform us of the movement of the Spirit to protect, heal and save us from our own hubris, greed and false worship of power.
Postscript: Faith in Public Life (FPL) is providing religious leaders with the means to speak to moral issues by providing a platform for exposure. The Rev. William Barber, for example, is an effective public voice for justice and FPL has assisted him and others with media access. I am a board member of FPL.