The Power of Twitter

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised approximately $4 million.

This past weekend it raised $24 million.

That’s right. In one weekend the ACLU raised six times the amount that it typically raises in a good year.

What was behind the jump in donations?

President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven majority Muslim countries.

The ACLU was one of the organizations that had filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqi refugees, prompting the stay, according to the WSJ.

Celebrities and venture capitalists jumped in to help, using Twitter to encourage people to donate to the ACLU cause, and pledging to match whatever their followers pledged.

Fred Wilson, a well-known venture capitalist in New York City, posted the following to his Twitter account yesterday:

The link in the tweet goes to Fred’s blog post, where he provides a bot more detail:

Brad, Amy, Joanne, and Fred have been inspired by Chris’s $150,000 match offer yesterday and Albert and Susan’s $15,000 match offer today. So we are joining together (the four of us) and joining the movement they started and doing a $20,000 match offer on ACLU donations today.

(Note: Brad is Brad Feld, a venture capitalist in Boulder; Amy is Amy Batchelor, an author; Joanne is Joanne Wilson, an angel investor. Brad and Amy are married to each other, as are Fred and Joanne.)

At the end of his post, he included the following update:

Update: We maxed out on our match after about an hour this morning. Patrick Collison picked it up and will match until he maxes out. You can tweet your receipts to him here. Thanks to everyone who participated. It felt good, really good, to do something like this.

Brad Feld (the Brad mentioned in the post above) is also a venture capitalist, and sent out his own update about the fundraising, after taking a rest:

When I woke up, Amy said “we did something good while you were asleep.” I had well over 100 tweets with ACLU receipts, Fred had started a spreadsheet of all the matching gifts, and we had blown through our $20,000 match. By the end of the day, we were over $90,000 of matches with more coming in so we stopped counting and, with our $20,000, were easily over $100,000 to the ACLU in one day, which started with Fred’s blog post.

Not bad, getting people to raise $90,000 in less than a day, and then matching those pledges with $20,000. It certainly helps that Fred has close to 600,000 followers on Twitter, while Brad has close to 300,000.

When asked what it would do with all of the donations, the ACLU responded by stating that the organization would use the funds to fight for the rights of immigrants, as part of a seven-step plan to counter the Trump administration.

I think this clearly shows the power of social media to play a key role in social causes, and it reminded me of the Ice Bucket Challenge that was so successful in raising money for ALS. (The Challenge raised $115 million in eight weeks.)

And coincidentally, the Wall Street Journal had a story in today’s paper about an art exhibition at the International Center of Photography Museum titled, Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change.

Confining themselves to the impact of social media on recent political activism, the curators, led by Carol Squiers and Cynthia Young, examine the climate-change debate; the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe; gay and transgender identity; the Black Lives Matter movement; Islamic State recruitment propaganda; and the right-wing fringe during the 2016 election.

It’s interesting to see that social media can be used for doing good, like making people aware of injustices or for fundraising purposes, but also for nefarious reasons, such as ISIS recruitment propaganda and promoting fringe movements.

While many people may complain about the overuse of social media, I think in the big picture, the benefits of such tools outweigh the costs.

So I’ll continue to follow Fred and Joanne and Brad and Amy, you never know what game-changing tweet they might send out next.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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