What Social Media Week has to do with doing good

If you follow Survivors' Truths on Twitter or Facebook, you might have noticed a lot of posts about Social Media Week, which is a global gathering of people working in technology and the interwebs. As I write this, I am sitting in the Los Angeles offices of Google, listening to them talk about how they are working with social media technology professionals.


I have attended panels on sharing media with mobile technology, Social Media for Nonprofits, startup strategies, and have several more to go. The people here are really, really smart. A lot of what is being said is over my head. 

So why am I here? What does this week have to do with Survivors' Truths' work helping victims of violence and discrimination?

From the beginning, Survivors' Truths has been about helping people. More than that, though, Survivors' Truths is about finding new, better ways to help people. It started with the simple shift from focusing on the victimization narratives - the parts of a person's story about the bad things that happened to them - to focusing on stories of survival - the parts of a person's story that are about how they faced those difficulties. This alone has proven powerful because stories of victimization are always about powerlessness, lack of resources, disconnection from other people while the survival story always includes the strengths, knowledge, resources, and relationships that were sustaining and can be built on. This part of the project was easy. I am a therapist working from a Narrative perspective.

But Survivors' Truths is more than modified counseling. Part of the original idea was to share these stories in some public way. It became clear that this was the second shift that could happen in how social service workers help people. Telling your story publicly is very different than telling it to a counselor or support group. In spite of my professions fears (I'll write something about how we deal with concerns of overexposure and safety soon), we saw the potential for social work to have an even greater impact. Sharing the stories of a survivor can help someone struggling with similar problems and inspire others. It can also contribute to a third shift - a real paradigm shift - in how we talk and think about people we would like to help. So often, awareness campaigns can have the unintended effect of objectifying and disempowering the people we want to help (think the common 'child covered in flies' photo). We believe that people can be equally motivated to respond to accounts of disaster or war that keep the trauma as the context and the person's efforts as the story.  

So, we needed to share the stories. Participants in our projects really wanted this. And I really didn't know how. SInce then, Survivors' Truths has been developing our ability to share our work more widely. To fulfill our mission of "Telling another part of the story," we have to be able to tell it well and share it even better. The timing couldn't be better, really. In the past five years, we have gone from MySpace (I had one!) to Facebook, to Google+ and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube. The technology is developing and changing all the time, and we need to be on top of it.

So, I am sitting here, learning about Google's support of developers. And, though a lot of the tech stuff is over my head, I feel an affinity for the other people in the room. Like their work, our work at Survivors' Truths is an experiment, a series of experiments, in bringing together different ways of working (or different 'technologies') to expand the possibilities for positive impact while reducing the likelihood of unintended harm.

And it's fun. A lot of the people here are really nice and ready to help us figure out how to do what we do even better.