Online Activism Aims to Stop School Spankings

Can social media make a real difference for a cause? It's a challenge taken on by Marc Ecko and his Unlimited Justice, a campaign to fight corporal punishment in U.S. schools. More than just an isolated campaign, it's an example of how the Internet is changing modern activism.

Online activism has been both the whipping boy and unexpected hero of social good. The recent revolutions in the Middle East offer a strong case for the powers of social media to amass people into a sum greater than the individual. However, social good has also given birth to ugly terms like "slacktivism" -- a portmanteau that picks on the perceived apathy and laziness of social media users.

It may take less physical effort to sign an online petition than stage a protest, but those online efforts are starting to mean more and more to officials. Ecko's Unlimited Justice campaign helped pressure New Mexico into banning corporal punishment and made in-roads on the practice in Texas.

Unlimited Justice was focused on ending corporal punishment in U.S. schools. The practice of hitting students was permissible as a form of discipline in 20 states. More than 200,000 students received some form of physical punishment in 2006 according to the latest report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

The online campaign was made of two distinct parts: the UJ platform and a Foursquare campaign. The platform lived on the Unlimited Justice website. In many ways it was a social good "game," whereby users gained points through five steps -- learning the facts, signing a pledge to join the movement, recruiting friends to participate through social sites, petitioning government officials, and creating unique art and video. Each step earns the users points, which are calculated and displayed on a leader board.

The site pitches Unlimited Justice as a game where those points are proxies for real influence and impact in the realm of education reform. It's a nice touch to have the points reflect user credibility rather than act as a way to get merchandise. So many other sites use game mechanics as a way to draw their fans back to a purchase button. With Unlimited Justice, that cache of points is a reflection of a user's commitment to ending corporal punishment.

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