Causes reportedly emailed users of its MySpace app on Tuesday to tell them that all Causes will be removed from MySpace on Friday morning, in three days. Causes was co-founded by Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, the Comcast-acquired Plaxo and Founding President of Facebook.The wildly popular nonprofit fundraising application
MySpace users of Causes were encouraged to post links on their MySpace profiles asking cause supporters to join the cause on Facebook instead. In abandoning MySpace, is Causes abandoning nonprofit groups organizing online with poorer users and people of color? Or are neither MySpace or Causes any big loss for social change organizations?
The Politics of Politics
Amy Sample Ward writes today on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog that she's concerned. "Causes leaving MySpace," she writes, "means that no users there will be able to continue promoting the causes, organizations or sectors that they care about via a process that's already been established, adopted, and networked.
"[The] Causes' About statement says, 'The goal of all this is what we call equal opportunity activism. We're trying to level the playing field by empowering individuals to change the world.' The removal of Causes from MySpace where there are active communities of supporters means 'equal opportunity activism' is defined by only certain communities - we know that social networking platforms have very different demographic user groups."
So Sample Ward argues that Causes is being hypocritical by allowing equal access to tools for social change to be defined only by the more economically powerful demographic groups on Facebook.
Causes told users it was pulling out of MySpace because of a lack of activity, but the MySpace App Gallery says there are almost 190,000 active Causes users right now, making it the third most popular app in the politics and causes category.
Housing rights nonprofit exec Justin Massa concurs with Sample Ward and takes the critique a step further: "Causes' justification sounds an awful lot like what financial institutions and the real estate industry used to say about poor and minority neighborhoods. I'm planning a longer post on this subject early next week, but in the meantime wanted to label this for what it is: social network redlining. " [Our link added for clarity.]
Not everyone thinks that MySpace provides a meaningful opportunity to effect social change, though. In an interview four years ago on the topic of nonprofit promotion on MySpace, Pete Cashmore of social network tracking blog Mashable articulated what's now a widely-held belief. He said he believed MySpace was really just filled with young, drunken, hyper-sexualized, attention seekers. "You've been there...it seems crazy for organizations to invest time and resources there," he said, "but it's popular!"
Not everyone sees it that way. The Humane Society, for example, posts daily to MySpace about animal welfare issues for its 65k+ friends.
the company profile page; his mission statement begins with the words "According to the historical Buddha..." It's hard to imagine a beneficent religious figure that would ditch MySpace for Facebook, isn't it? Perhaps "the historical Buddha" would choose to pull up stakes from the 11th most popular website in the world if the people were too shallow and go to the hip social network where the money-raising action is.Causes co-founder Sean Parker poses sitting with crossed legs in his photo on
The Loss of Causes
Perhaps even more cynical are some of the attitudes around Causes itself. This Spring the Washington Post reported that despite big expectations from many nonprofit organizations, posting a Causes app to a Facebook profile and waiting for the money to roll in is a sure path to disappointment.
"Only a tiny fraction of the 179,000 nonprofits that have turned to Causes as an inexpensive and green way to seek donations have brought in even $1,000, according to data available on the Causes developers' site. The application allows Facebook users to list themselves as supporters of a cause on their profile pages. But fewer than 1 percent of those who have joined a cause have actually donated money through that application."
Widely respected nonprofit technology consultant Beth Kanter says that Causes is like a one-night stand. "Where's the opportunity to cultivate and get to know those joiners and move them up the ladder to donation?" she asks, "Where's the relationship building?"
So by pulling out of MySpace, is Causes abandoning some of the people who need it most? Or is MySpace a bad place to do political organizing anyway? Or, is Causes just not a great way to organize and fundraise?
There's a lot of negative feelings around this news, but maybe that's what happens when the struggling nonprofit technology sector puts too much stock in the dalliances of a big-named Silicon Valley baron like Sean Parker.
Kanter brings a twinkle of optimism to the conversation: "This sounds like a great opportunity for other fundraising applications," she says.