by Alexis Curry, Communications Fellow at WEDO

I have a confession to make: before I started my Communications fellowship at WEDO in June, I didn’t use Twitter.

Let me clarify before all of those nonprofit organizations to which I’ve applied for jobs scold me for lying on my resume, which lists Twitter as one of my social media skills. Before I started at WEDO, I understood how Twitter worked. I knew about hashtags, handles and that frequently pesky 140 character limit. I was all about followers and being followed. I comprehended the significance of trending. Still, the Twitter account I set up on some uneventful evening during my freshman year of college lay dormant for years, except for a few woeful tweets during my unfortunate bout with mono in 2009, to which none of my whopping fourteen followers replied.

My opinion about Twitter fluctuated between the notion that it was entirely self-indulgent and a more docile feeling of relative indifference. I did not tweet every article or video I came across; I waited ten more seconds and posted it on my Facebook wall. I could tweet if I wanted to, but I didn’t particularly relish the experience. I was not, and never intended to be, an avid Twitterer.

Then Rio+20 happened. I had only worked at WEDO for four days before the majority of our staff flew off to Brazil for what quickly became a battle for the inclusion of language regarding women’s rights in the Summit’s final document. Social media, particularly on @Women_Rio20 and #WomenRio, became a key component of the Women’s Major Group’s attempts to spread awareness and inspire action.

After years of never visiting Twitter, updating @WEDO_WorldWide became my main responsibility. Dauntingly, I was no longer posting on an account followed by fourteen people, but thousands. For two weeks, I sat in WEDO’s empty, quiet New York City Headquarters, scheduling tweet after tweet. My stomach flip-flopped every time I got a retweet or a mention, which seemed ridiculous at the time. Soon, I hashtagged like the wind; I mastered the art of fitting #RioPlus20, #WomenRio, #SexRightsRio and a hyperlink in under 140-characters. I RT’d the MT’s of youth organizations and women’s NGOs like it was NBD.

Of course, I digress into the chatspeak for which my generation is apparently notorious. The point is, Rio+20 was my personal Twitter crash course and, more importantly, it was my way of helping support a movement about which I cared deeply from thousands of miles away. I was fighting as a woman and as a young person for commitment to action on sustainable development.

At some point during my social media frenzy, I realized that if I, a recent college graduate with all the spunk, pizzazz, and blind optimism you can fit into a person, was tweeting for one NGO, that many of the other accounts with which I was communicating  must also be run by interns, fellows, and young volunteers willing to please and looking to make an impact. Somehow all of us had fallen into the absurdly lucky position of promoting our respective causes behind the Twitter-masks of  NGOs, charities, and politicians with thousands of people willing to listen. Our tweets made millions of impressions in the days leading up to and during the conference. Whether in Rio or somewhere else, armed with communications strategies and an incessant urge to share content, we were running things.

When the final draft of “The Future We Want” was released, I found out at exactly the same time as those present at the summit; after I read it, I browsed reactions, condemnations, and snark on WEDO’s livefeed. Together, we expressed our disappointment but we also seemed to find our resolve to keep fighting.

I still have a few questions, though, post-Rio+20 and mid-Twitter obsession: if my suspicions are correct, and there is an army of twenty-somethings representing nonprofit organizations and political entities internationally, how do we harness it to create collective action? Who do I need to call to join the Social Media Intern Federation and, if there isn’t one, how do I start it? Can we successfully support the organizations that we admire, and assert our position as the world’s youth, one which is frequently and incorrectly determined to be powerless? Our use of social media tools made them legitimate avenues of promotion and activism. I know we are strong and I know we can effect change.

When I post this blog entry on WEDO’s website, before subsequently tweeting it, putting it on Facebook, effectively tooting my own horn for all across the Internet to hear, I will be thinking of the Twitter-masks, and the youth that stand behind them.  I hope they consider this entry as proper recognition, at least for now.


Alexis Curry is the Volunteer Outreach Coordinator and Communications Fellow at WEDO. You can follow her ramblings at @ohlexcurry, where she now has more than fourteen followers.

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