A lot of people see reading novels as a very romantic way of escapism (Knight 2011). However, sometimes, novels may prompt a solution to major political, social and economic issues (Knight 2011). The very idea that something like the Harry Potter series may be powerful enough to spark an organization for social change might seem ridiculous (Knight 2011). Nevertheless, the worldwide phenomenon of the Harry Potter series did (Knight 2011). In 2005, an organization called Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) by analogy with the Dumbledore Army emerged (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
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The organization was based entirely on the power of the social media, particularly, Facebook and MySpace (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The HPA members vowed to fight against social injustice and instill the key principles of participatory democracy, or participatory politics, into not only their community, but also the U.S. society in general (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
Though HPA traditionally solves local issues, it has recently participated in solving the Darfur conflict (Bravo 2012). Spreading awareness concerning the conflict issues is the key activity of HPA now (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The attempt at tying in a children fiction book and the realities of the present day world is rather naïve (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). However, the HPA already has not only a vast list of major accomplishments (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). It also has an army of fan based organizations inspired by it, including the Global Kids, defined as a “New York after school organization” (Kallus 2013).
More to the point, the HPA Organization did not emerge as a local phenomenon (Kallus 2013). Along with the HPA, a more reality driven project called Invisible Children appeared almost at the same time (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Though HPA may seem a childish idea, the principles of participatory democracy combined with clear goals and active use of social media will lead to a major change towards social engagement in the U.S. and all over the world (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
As one might have guessed, the organization includes mostly young people aged 23–27, i.e., the people that were Joanne K. Rowling’s target audience and the readers of the Harry Potter series (Kallus 2013). True, there are younger and older members in the HPA organization at present; however, they clearly make a minority, whereas the people of 23–27 are both at the helm of HPA and among the key activists (Kallus 2013).
It is quite remarkable that their fascination with the book and with the idea of enhancing the participatory democracy principles in the United States informs, but not defines their social status and other characteristics, e.g., gender and ethnicity. For example, the organization has high rates of ethnic and cultural diversity (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
In addition, both city dwellers and the residents of the American suburbia have joined the organization (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). As for the social status, mostly the representatives of the American middle class can be found in the HPA (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The organization members can also be defined by such learner characteristics as empathy and compassion (Kallus 2013). As for the learning styles and strategies that the member of the HPA use in order to attain their goals, active use of new forms of media, particularly, social networks, should be mentioned (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
The platform used by the HPA members allows for enhancing the diversification process (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Thus, an objective evaluation for the major issues regarding the U.S. and the world political, economic and social issues is possible (Knight 2011). As it has been stressed above, the organization uses social networks as the key tool for instilling the principles of participatory democracy (Knight 2011). However, there are also a couple of other aces up the HPA’s sleeve (Howard 2007).
For instance, HPA has recently teamed up with the StopBigMedia.com (Howard 2007). A rather risky step, it has still provided the premises for spreading the participatory democracy ideas (Howard 2007). As HPA explained, the reasons for them to undertake such radical measures included the concern for the local forms of new media (Howard 2007). One day, large corporations may “swallow” these types of media (Howard 2007). As a result, it will be hard for common people to voice their concerns about topical social, political and economic issues (Howard 2007).
Thus, the very basis for participatory democracy will be jeopardized (Howard 2007). The organization is based on an open platform technology similar to the one used by the Wikipedia (data storage) and Facebook (communication) (MacArthur & MacArthur 2012). Thus, HPA facilitates open access for its members and visitors (MacArthur & MacArthur 2012). The message board, which is similar to the one used in Facebook, facilitates fast and efficient communication processes. The Wikipedia based data storage system helps arrange the existing information, as well as retain and distribute it (MacArthur & MacArthur 2012).
Thus, the platform technology used by the HPA serves as the tool for strengthening the community and managing information (MacArthur & MacArthur 2012). As knowledge is also a major part of the social capital, the technology chosen by HPA contributes to the increase of the social capital as well (Howard 2007). Facebook, however, is different froma range of other social networking sites in its commercial streak (Howard 2007).
The power of new media is often discussed in scholarly literature (Conway 2011). However, it would be erroneous to assume that the introduction of new media will change the society radically (Conway 2011). Instead, new forms of media must be viewed as tools (Conway 2011).
By utilizing these tools properly, organizations will be able to provide solutions for people’s social, political, economic and financial problems (Fuchs 2012). As a rule, such issues as poverty, military conflicts and economic concerns are listed among the topical problems (Conway 2011). However, new media will not solve them directly (Conway 2011). Instead, it will suggest the possible avenues through the strengthening of the community, increasing and retaining the social capital, and establishing participatory democracy (Fuchs 2012). The three aforementioned components are, in their turn, the basis for a healthy environment for economic, political and social development (Fuchs 2012).
The significance of new media in terms of community strengthening is often underrated tragically (Fuchs 2012). However, recent researches have shown that new media helps improve the relationships between the community member considerably (Fuchs 2012). Indeed, apart from the engagement of an average citizen into the political and economic concerns of the state, new media tools create the premises for solving major social dilemmas (Fuchs 2012). Again, these tools do not make the topical issues magically dissolve (Fuchs 2012).
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Rather, they are used to adopt original and creative approaches towards the problem solving process (Fuchs 2012). New media may help approach the key cultural dilemmas, such as the lack of diversity in a community (Fuchs 2012). By communicating their fears, concerns and culture related dilemmas through new media, people will be able to receive responses from the representatives of other cultures and ethnicities (Fuchs 2012). Thus, new media, especially the one that is similar to Facebook, can improve relationships between the community members greatly (Fuchs 2012).
More importantly, new media facilitates better cooperation between the community members (Keren 2010). Being very fast and extraordinarily cheap, it makes entering the community possible for nearly everyone (Keren 2010). True, handling new media requires thorough learning – a number of people are often baffled by the new tools and hesitant to use them (Knight 2011). Nevertheless, new media and especially social networks have already been proven useful in a range of social and political issues, such as the Gulf Coast funding (Cornell & Woodlief 2011). Thus, new media in general and social networks in particular create the premises for major social changes (Cornell & Woodlief 2011).
Needless to say, new social media, such as Facebook, creates the environment for participation democracy as well (Lu 2011). It allows every single member of the community voice their opinion on the subject matter (Lu 2011). With modern media, people are empowered for learning about various viewpoints (Lu 2011). Thus, people have an opportunity to learn facts and evaluate a specific social, political or economic phenomenon objectively (Chattopadhyay 2011).
The case of the Pink Chaddi Campaign, for example, has shown that gender stereotypes affect women’s social status and job opportunities drastically (Chattopadhyay 2011). The Indian government would have not paid attention to the issue if it had not been raised by the social activists (Chattopadhyay 2011). Thus, the bulk of participatory democracy principles is created (Chattopadhyay 2011). People learn to take active steps in order to address topical issues that are on the agenda of the community and the society (Chattopadhyay 2011).
Speaking of capital, it is remarkable that the use of social network in general and the platforms like Facebook in particular helps citizens discuss financial issues as well. Mann (2011) offers a slightly narrow interpretation of capital in his research (Mann 2011). Nevertheless, he makes a very valid point by showing that social networking does affect major financial issues. For example, such a grand scale problem as the concerns of a public housing community may be discussed by the members of a social network (Mann 2011).
More importantly, social networking will allow for considering all valid points (Mann 2011). The local authorities may miss or disregard certain opinions due to the small number of their proponents (Mann 2011). In a social network based on a Facebook related platform, every opinion will be considered (Mann 2011). This is especially important when a major problem, such as banking, should be discussed (Mann 2011).
It is crucial to allow the member of every social stratum to express their opinion (Mann 2011).Thus, the issue of issue of measurement of social capital should be brought up (Mann 2011). In HPA, as well as in Facebook, the number of friends is considered a measurement of the social capital (Mann 2011). Therefore, a Facebook driven platform will also help shape people’s social values (Mann 2011).
The Facebook related platform, however, is only one part of the system adopted by HPA (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). Such an important social media tool as Wikipedia and the related encyclopedias (Mann 2011) also deserves a mentioning: “What knowledge seekers need – at least those who are not clairvoyant – is a bridge between what they know and what they wish to know, between their vague initial query and the concrete topics and terminology available” (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007, p. 1).
Its operation is based on a slightly different principle than the Facebook and the related services (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). However, a Wikipedia driven technology platform is another factor facilitating the HPA’s success (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). The interaction process is admittedly low in the given part of the HPA virtual community realm (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). Nevertheless, it provides major advantages in terms of information management (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). As it has been stressed above, HPA’s activities are targeted at three key goals (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012).
The first one concerns engaging citizens into the discussion of the topical social, political and economic issues (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). The second one, in its turn, revolves around spreading awareness (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). A social network like Facebook creates the premises for meeting these goals (Mann 2011). The third one, however, concerns efficient information management (Keren 2010). Therefore, forums can no longer be viewed as salvation (Keren 2010). Hence, a knowledge-based search engine powered by Wikipedia or a similar platform is required (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007).
Keeping people informed about the issues on the agenda of the community helps create stronger links between its members (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). In addition, knowledge is an important element of social capital and, thus, has to be secured (Wei, Zheng & Zhang 2011). Finally, the principles of participatory democracy can only exist once every member of the society is properly informed and can evaluate a specific situation or issue critically (Breuer n. d.).
In addition, such a tool as blogging should be brought up (Keren 2010). It creates huge opportunities for social engagement for individuals and communities. Blogging cannot be considered a recent invention (Keren 2010). However, among the HPA members, it still plays a crucial role in information management, the process of spreading awareness and increasing social engagement (Keren 2010).
The analysis of new media provided above shows that HPA has a huge potential (Kligler-Vilenchik, & Shresthova 2012). Indeed, new media develops every day, and, thus, offers both new challenges and new opportunities (Keren 2010). Speaking of the main element of the HPA technology platform, the Facebook based communication panel, it is very efficient in terms of participative democracy enhancement (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
Any person that has a Facebook account, not necessarily the member of the organization, may post and voice their opinion (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Thus, the participatory democracy principles are put into practice (Breuer n. d.). The given method has its problems as well (Lax 2000). For example, it does not provide protection from the Internet “trolls” (Lax 2000). As a result a peaceful discussion of a topical issue may turn into a conflict (Lax 2000).
Nevertheless, with the help of a careful moderation of the discussion threads, conflicts may be avoided (Lax 2000). Moreover, the Wikipedia knowledge base platform allows for an efficient knowledge management (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). However, like Wikipedia, this resource can be altered by any member or participant (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). The reputation of HPA, therefore, depends on the maturity and reliability of its community (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). Nevertheless, the openness of the resource also has its advantages (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007).
By being fully open and transparent, the organization shows the sincerity and clarity of its intentions (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). The tools chosen by the HPA allow for not only raising awareness, but also publishing (Lax 2000). This helps the community involve more people into the discussion process (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Blogs are the key tool used for publishing the HPA materials (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). There are several reasons for the choice of blogs as the major publishing tool (Lax 2000).
First, blogs are free and can be accessed instantly (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). Second, blogs provide the tools for the resident of any state to participate. Third and most important, blogs encourage discussion (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007). Thus, participation rates are increased and public engagement is encouraged (McGee 2009). Organizations like HPA are based on the so-called “participatory Culture Civic” and need feedback from the community; they are rooted within “participatory cultures”, defined as cultures that have a strong sense of community, relatively low barriers to participation, informal mentorship structures and support for creating and sharing one’s creations (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012, p. 2).
For the HPA, opening its issues to public discussion is essential (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The HPA organization focuses on not only local problems, but also global concerns (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Therefore, feedback from those concerned is welcomed in the community (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Online blogging provides a chance for any member of the community or even a person concerned to publish their work on the subject matter (Milne, Witten, & Nichols 2007).
Because of the availability of the publishing tool, the popularity of online blogging is growing among the people visiting the HPA site (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Therefore, the tools used by the HPA Organization can be considerd extremely efficient in building community strength, social capital and participatory democracy in the United States and beyond (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
The HPA case study may be considered somewhat funny and lacking reliability (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). However, it still creates a big opportunity for people to learn more about important social, political and economic issues of the XXI century (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). More importantly, the case study shows how important their participation is (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Unfortunately, in the modern society, social activity or engagement among the members of a certain community is very rare (Lu 2011).
Such reluctance to discuss major social issues has several roots (Lu 2011). The first one is underestimating the significance of one’s voice (Lu 2011). The second one is the unwillingness to use new forms of media for the fear of failing at it (Chattopadhyay 2011). The HPA organization encourages people to voice their concerns via new media by proving that their opinion matters and that they can master new technologies (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Enthusiastic and driven, the members of the HPA are capable of proving to the U.S. population that participatory democracy is possible (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
Engaging every single member of the community into solving complex economic, political and especially social concerns, the HPA organization sets the premises for participatory democracy to develop in the XXI century (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The same can be said about the issue of community strength (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The case study of the HPA shows how significant the strength of a community is (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
It shows that, when united, people can fight social injustice efficiently (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Finally, HPA proves the importance of a social capital (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). The organization defines knowledge acquisition and sharing as one of its key goals (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012). Such a wide disposal of the social capital is worth considering closer (Wei, Zheng & Zhang 2011). The HPA case definitely allows for a better understanding of the phenomenon of social capital (Wei, Zheng & Zhang 2011).
Unlike other organizations, HPA does not see information as the end in itself (Wei, Zheng & Zhang 2011). Instead, the organization views data as a tool for making the society better by engaging its every member in a conversation (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).Thus, the case of the Harry Potter Alliance may sound funny, yet contributes impressively to the societal evolution (Kligler-Vilenchik & Shresthova 2012).
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