Left finds new online tools to fight Trump

Left finds new online tools to fight Trump
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Liberal groups are turning to new technology to help organize their fight against President Trump's administration.

Activists are no strangers to harnessing technology and social media to promote their cause, but organizers say a new generation of tools is helping them build larger movements and sustain their protests.

Organizers of high-profile events, including the demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the record-setting Women's March on Inauguration weekend, are using a new platform from the nonprofit group The Action Network to improve communications with members and organize on the fly.

Another new digital tool is Hustle, a growing mass-texting app, that lets groups better communicate directly with supporters on the ground.

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Groups have long relied on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, and apps like Eventbrite, but organizers said those platforms made it difficult to keep supporters engaged over a long period of time.

“On Facebook you have individual events,” said Yordanos Eyoel a spokesperson for the Women’s March, which took place in Washington, D.C. and other cities across the country on Jan. 21. “There is really no connected network.”

“I think [Facebook is] a great way to get a message out, but I think when you’re trying to facilitate a network approach. Action Network enables you to do that,” Eyoel added.

The Action Network's website offers organizers tools including the ability to send mass emails, promote digital petitions, and encourage letter writing campaigns from a central hub. Organizers can also organize events, track RSVPs and sell tickets.

Instead of having users simply RSVP via Facebook or other social media, organizers are better able to build a network and prompt supporters on further action.

The organizers of the Women's March for example used the tools to create a map of protests around the country so that supporters could enter in a zip code and find the events nearest them. And with those zip codes and contacts in a central database, organizers find it easier to follow up.

Action Network's cofounder Brian Young says the group's tools are more comprehensive than just social media, and says they are experiencing a boom since Trump's election.

“We’ve seen a huge upsurge in groups coming out of nowhere,” Young said.

He said the Action Network had spent the last week adding extra servers to keep up with the growing demand.

“We’ve reached a point within the progressive movement and people know to turn to us especially around these events. There isn’t a really a toolset like ours,” he added.

Another tool, Hustle, allows users to send personalized text messages to large groups of people.

Hustle CEO Roddy Lindsay said the app lets organizers maintain “dozens, hundreds or even thousands” of conversations with those interested in their issues.

And Lindsay said the personalized texts are better at engaging supporters than mass emails which are often ignored.

“We’ve seen incredible response rates to participate in a meaningful way,” he said. “It’s generally around 30 to 40 percent. You might get a [email] click through rate of 1 or 2 percent and make it really hard to engage your audience.

"People respond to people in a way that’s different from communication that they know is automated,” Lindsay added.

Unlike one-off events, Lindsay said Hustle could help activist groups create "enduring movements."

One big change for the new tools is that while Facebook and Twitter's platforms are open to all, the Action Network says its intended to help the left.

The Action Network nonprofit describes itself as a "progressive" venture and its terms of service say that users must be in tune with their “mission,” to “enable progressive organizations and individuals to … to fight abusive corporate practices, the effect of unchecked corporate power on political systems, and other progressive priorities.”

The group says it doesn't have any private backers and is funded by contributing partners who pay extra for premium tools.

Partners like the AFL-CIO contribute and in exchange get a voice in the development of new technologies and features and access to special organizing tools.

Hustle, a for-profit company, doesn’t exclude non-progressive groups from using the app, but did note that the vast majority of their users are on the left and said they are happy with that direction.

Skeptics though note that the new organizing tools still have some hefty competition from giants in social media.

Facebook's 1.86 billion users are hard for any rival to match. Twitter has 317 million and many others that access tweets without an account.

Eyoel said Facebook is still useful for spreading Women's March organizers' messages thanks to that large userbase and noted that many of the group's events started on that platform.

But she said the new organizing tools had new value.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that it replaces traditional face to face relationships, but I think it does do an incredible job in creating a global network, which would be challenging otherwise.”

And the heads of both the Action Network and Hustle are bullish, expecting to see growth in the years ahead, as other groups use their services to mobilize supporters.

“The question ‘is how do we turn moments of energy into long term sustainable movements?’” Lindsay said.

“People are waking up to realizing that you do that with organizing,” he continued. “You can’t just do one event. You have to take advantage of someone showing up and bring them into a community.