Social Media, Social Change: How the National Council of La Raza Uses Social Media to Advance Latino Issue

The national debate on immigration reform has fueled anti-Latino sentiment in the United States, particularly in the southwest Border States, with new laws like Arizona SB1070 that critics argue encourage racial profiling.  The divisive debate has created a racist climate for Latino-Americans as groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform argue that the countries economic woes are a result of the influx of Latino immigrants that take American jobs, don’t pay taxes, and cost taxpayers money with pervasive use of U.S. social services and high rates of criminal activity (Rock, 2011).  The National Council of La Raza (2011a), a Latino social justice organization born out of the civil rights movement, seeks to combat discrimination and advocate for Latino rights, using social media to educate the Latino community, challenge discriminatory stereotypes, and help the community take action, using effective techniques firmly grounded in modern communication theory.

Community Education

            NCLR is active across a variety of issue that impact the Latino community, including advocacy, education, immigration, civil rights, the economy, and wealth-building, to name but a few (2011c).  While each program or issue is treated individually based on its unique requirements, NCLR uses its web site to frame each issue and publicize supporting research to educate the public.  Some of the more engaging media on the site including use of embedded YouTube video that links to the NCLR You Tube channel for sponsored public service announcements.  A more interesting educational technique employed by NCLR is the use of online video games to education Latinos on money-management and wealth building.  One such game is Farm Blitz, an interactive game with social elements, that use the metaphor of farming to educate players on the best way to use both credit and savings to maximize wealth and avoid overextension (Doorways2Dreams Fund, 2011).  Using games, NCLR helps players to “gain a fresh perspective on material and can potentially engage them in that content in more complex and nuanced ways” (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine, & Haywood, 2011, p. 21), helping to make the content more accessible for a young, Latino, audience.  NCLR uses sophisticated techniques and a number of channels to frame issues of collective importance to the Latino community.

Challenging Pervasive Stereotypes

            The National Association of Hispanic Journalists conducts annual studies of the coverage and treatment of Latinos on the evening network news broadcasts.  The most recent report published in 2006 found that “Latinos make up 14.5 percent of the U.S. population but less than one percent of stories on the network evening news” (Montalvo & Torres, 2006, p. 5).  Montalvo and Torres also found more than 30% of stories included unidentifiable groups of Latinos that go unnamed and do not speak in the segments, typically in a story on immigration, where “images of day laborers standing in a parking lot or immigrants crossing the border often provide viewers with a negative, menacing and stereotypical depiction of Latinos” (2006, p. 13).   NCLR seeks to combat the pervasive use of Latino stereotypes in a variety of ways, by providing alternative, positive, views of Latinos as leaders and role models.  One such example is through public service announcements that use Latino role models from sports, politics, and entertainment.  Another example is through the hosting of the ALMA Awards, a nationally televised awards program that honors Latino entertainers, and promotes ” fair, accurate, and representative portrayals of Latinos in entertainment” (Murgia, 2011, p. 1).  Viewers that witness the opposing portrayals of Latinos, as criminals or immigrants, and as role models or leaders, like experience a cognitive dissonance and will seek to resolve it to achieve consonance.

Direct Action Using Social Media

            One of the most crucial goals of NCLR’s media use is to motivate people to take action either through volunteer or fundraising efforts.   Waters (2007) describes a two-way symmetrical model as being most effective for e-philanthropy efforts that create a dialogue with potential donors and NCLR uses a variety of techniques to do that.  NCLR links out to their Twitter and Facebook pages.  While Twitter appears to be used as a one-way dialogue, NCLRs use of Facebook is clearly a two-way dialogue where comments are not only welcomed, but responded to as well.  Waters (2007) additionally noted that successful online fundraisers typical allowed for a variety of donation type that included both one-time, recurring, and planned donations.  NCLR use all three methods and also allows donations to be made in honor or memory of an individual (National Council of La Raza, 2011b).  Additionally, NCLR incorporates donation tiers with varied levels of recognition according to tier (National Council of La Raza, 2011b).

Another important element of NCLRs presence is the ability to subscribe to their action network.  NCLR uses geographical information to inform the public on the voting record of lawmakers on key issues impacting Latinos.  Additionally, the public can subscribe to the NCLR Action Network via both email and text, in order to be informed of campaigns and events that use direct action to influence change.


            The Latino community is under fire because of politicians, the media, and special interest groups that favor immigration reform are using the national media to reinforce negative stereotypes of Latinos and attempt to link U.S. economic woes to Latino immigrants.  The National Council of La Raza makes effective use of social media in a two-way symmetrical model to combat discrimination, advocate for Latino rights, educate the Latino community, challenge discriminatory stereotypes, and help the community take direct action.


Doorways2Dreams Fund. (2011). Farm Blitz | Financial Entertainment. NCLR  Retrieved August 26, 2011, 2011, from

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., & Haywood, K. (2011). The 2011 horizon report (pp. 1-36). Austin, Texas.

Montalvo, D., & Torres, J. (2006). 2006 network brownout report: The portrayal of Latinos and Latino issues on network television news, 2005. In N. A. o. H. Journalists (Ed.), Network Brownout Report (pp. 1-24). Washington DC: National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Murgia, J. (2011). ALMA Awards 2011  Retrieved August 26, 2011, 2011, from

National Council of La Raza. (2011a). National Council of La Raza | About Us. NCLR  Retrieved August 26, 2011, 2011, from

National Council of La Raza. (2011b). National Council of La Raza | Donate Now. NCLR  Retrieved August 26, 2011, 2011, from

National Council of La Raza. (2011c). National Council of La Raza | Issues and Programs. NCLR  Retrieved August 26, 2011, 2011, from

Rock, R. (2011, August 15, 2011). Immigration Lack of Debate. journey24pointoh  Retrieved August 26, 2011, 2011, from

Waters, R. D. (2007). Nonprofit organizations’ use of the internet: A content analysis of communication trends on the internet sites of the philanthropy 400. [Article]. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 18(1), 59-76. doi: 10.1002/nml.171




New Media, New Perspectives

Image from : Patrick Hoesly

In an era characterized by technologies that enabled one-to-one and one-to-many communication, media studies have been dominated by the relationship between producers and consumers of information, focusing on the effects of media.  Digital media, whose communication paradigm includes one-to-one and one-to-many, also includes many-to-many communication, forcing those involved in media studies to reconsider commonly held beliefs and theoretical frameworks in light of the new technology (Quinn, 2011).  Which theoretical approaches are most useful to cultivate in accounting for the fundamental changes brought about by new media, and conversely, which theoretical approaches may no longer be relevant?  In order to account for the fundamental changes that have occurred and are likely to occur, it is useful to consider the media ecology to understand the how changes in the media technology may alter society as a new equilibrium is achieved.  Already, the introduction of digital media has wrought unanticipated changes in the ecology and had a surprising impact on the world.

The introduction of many-to-many relationships in media is based on the internet; ubiquitous, global, social, and cheap, digital media allows consumers to also be producers and share information in ways not possible in the era of broadcast (Shirky, 2009).   Additionally, the number of possible interactions in the network is the number of participants squared; meaning the number of interactions will larger than ever before in human history (Shirky, 2009).  Symbolic interactionism states that meaning is created as a process negotiated through interaction between people (Nelson, 1998).  As the number of interactions grows, what new meaning will be created and what possible impacts can it have on society?

Photograph: Magharebia / Creative Commons

Consider the recent Arab Spring, where millions of people across many countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, organized, protested, in most cases created significant social change, both intended and unintended.  “It all started with a desperate Tunisian shopkeeper who set himself on fire, which activated a transnational network of citizens exhausted by authoritarian rule. Within weeks, digitally-enabled protesters in Tunisia tossed out their dictator” (Nelson, 1998, p. 1).   Suddenly, people throughout the region were sharing their discontent and inspiration via social media, and in the process, circumventing traditional state-sponsored media entirely.  What new meaning did the image of the shopkeeper convey and how did it galvanize a country and ultimately an entire region?  A recent report from the Dubai School of Government found “empirical evidence suggesting that the growth of social media in the region and the shift in usage trends have played a critical role in mobilization, empowerment, shaping opinions, and influencing change” (Dubai School of Government, 2011, p. 24).  The democratization of media ultimately led to the democratization of some countries long known for autocratic rule.

When viewed through a lens of media ecology, it appears that in certain autocracies, like Egypt and Tunisia, digital media has given people a capability to circumvent traditional broadcast media, ultimately becoming an agent of social change. What new equilibrium will come about as governments grapple with digital media?  Will governments embrace social media to develop a more participatory political process or perhaps seek new media technologies that allow them to control or shape the new flow of meaning?  Of course, both are already occurring in different parts of the world.  Shirkey described President Obama using social media to mobilize his base of supporters and engage them in the political process during his campaign and described China’s wholesale shutdown of Twitter on the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in an attempt to control the risk of digital media.   It is clear that both governments and mainstream media will seek ways to tap into the vast flows of meaning that span the network interactions in an attempt to either harness, subvert, or control digital media in an effort to maintain their gatekeeper role.

Image: curiouslee via Creative Commons

Given that digital media has begun to erode the power of traditional media gatekeepers, what of the gatekeeper theory, associated theories like agenda-setting, framing, and semantics and their relevance for the future?  Some suggest the internet has rendered gatekeeping passé (Williams & Carpini, 2000), however, gatekeeping will likely remain relevant as along as mainstream media are part of the media ecology, albeit with less significance given that information flows freely.  Additionally, gatekeeping will likely remain relevant in media-savvy countries like China that maintain tight control of all media.

It is clear that digital media will be a revolution in media unlike any the world has seen.  Perhaps generations from now, media historians will discuss digital media as more revolutionary than even the printing press.  Those in media studies have an unparalleled opportunity to rethink existing media theory in light of the changes taking place all over the world as society comes to terms with the new technology.  Many existing perspectives, like media ecology and symbolic interactionism, will continue to provide useful insights to media scholars, while others, like gatekeeping may become less germane.


Dubai School of Government. (2011). Civil Movements: The Impact of Facebook and Twitter Arab Social Media Report (Vol. 1, pp. 1-30). Dubai: Dubai School of Government.

Nelson, L. D. (1998). Herbert Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionsm  Retrieved July 23, 2011, from

Quinn, S. (2011). Module 2: theoretical perspectives and challenges of digital communication, from

Shirky, C. (Producer). (2009, July 23, 2011). How Social Media Can Make History. Talks. Retrieved from

Williams, B. A., & Carpini, M. X. D. (2000). Unchained reaction: the collapse of media gatekeeping and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Journalism, 1(1), 61-85.

Hypothesis: Liminal business

Major U.S. corporations that predate the Internet are liminal businesses that exist in the space between the traditional economics of the 20th century and an emergent economy characterized by fundamentally different human behaviors and values; as a result, many are likely to experience significant business disruption by new competitors that understand how the world is changing and have the flexibility to align their products and services to the new value system.

In a nutshell, I think that many mainstream businesses are embracing social media as tools without necessarily having an understanding of how human behavior is changing as a result.  Examples are all over the place, of people getting together in unique ways with their own agenda for change.
  • Open source versus corporate built: Linux, Wikipedia, Firefox, Shareware, Freeware
  • Product-service systems versus product manufacturers: hardware and software solutions versus SaaS
  • redistribution versus hyperconsumption
  • carrot and stick versus autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • peer recommended versus brand identity
  • trusted behaviors versus credit report
  • friction versus flow
  • me versus we
  • and on and on.
Early in the class I was struck by symbolic interactionism and the implication of the idea that meaning is created through the interaction between people.  What does that mean for a society that has developed an exponential capability to interact through many-to-many communication mechanisms when interaction volumes increase astronomically?  I suspect it means a period of rapid change where new ideas take hold and are implemented by people rather than institutions (open source, arab spring, collaborative consumption, etc), simply because of rapid growth of cognitive surplus applied in altruistic ways (e.g. microfinancing) to address pervasive problems that mainstream institutions can’t seem to solve.  I think there is evidence (on web sites) that many businesses do not understand how fundamental the changes are and simply view social media as a new set of tools by which to market, advertise, and reach people, rather than applying social media strategically to address fundamental shifts in behavior and values.