Social media a successful tool for community leaders


On the evening of January 6, three men were shot in the Minneapolis’ Seward Market. It was an anguished time for the families, friends and community at an already dark time of the year, a time when many neighborhoods go into hibernation until spring. But for Seward neighborhood this has been a call to rally and that call has been spread over social media networks. 

Within two hours of the shooting, WCCO ran the story and posted a link on Twitter. That story was Re-Tweeted a handful of times and discussion began via Twitter. The next day the discussion picked up on E-Democracy’s Minneapolis Seward Neighbor Forum, an email and web-based list where list member Sheldon Mains posted a message. It was soon followed by a suggestion from another list member, Fran Vavrus:

“I, too, am deeply saddened by this event, and I wonder whether others would like to respond to it in some way to show that the Seward community-its Somali and non-Somali residents–condemns this violence.  A candlelight/flashlight vigil at 7:45 p.m. tonight (the time of the shooting yesterday), for example, in front of Seward Market might be a way to make a statement for peace.”


It was an idea that gained traction quickly, partially through the Internet and partially through traditional sources. Vavrus’ suggestion came at about the same time community leaders from Franklin businesses, Seward Neighborhood Group, Seward Redesign, the Seward Towers and Third Precinct Minneapolis Police were meeting trying to come up with a response. When Community Crime Prevention Specialist Shun Tillman from the Third Precinct mentioned that he had just seen the idea on the forum, everyone’s response was “Yes, great idea”.

The story also spread through local blogs. Peter Fleck’s post on the Seward Profile demonstrates power of online citizen journalism. He maintains the blog and happened to be near the Seward Market at the time of the shooting. His account brings in both the personal and community perspective. For those in Seward, Fleck’s story mirrored some of their own feelings. For those outside Seward, it was a good reminder that Seward is more than the location of a triple homicide, it’s neighborhood, much like their own. That’s perspective that citizen journalism can bring more easily than traditional media.

Hundreds of people attended the vigil including family members of the victims, 50-60 members of the Somali community and Mayor R.T. Rybak. Would the vigil have happened without the Internet? Several members of the community agree that it would have, but it could not have happened so quickly and it probably would not have been as well attended. And as Noel Nix, from Seward Redesign, points out, social networks gave voice to an “Everyday Jane” who was able to successfully suggest the vigil online.

Word spread through the Seward email list, Twitter, Facebook as well as personal email messages and forwarded stories from online news sources. According to Katya Pilling from Seward Redesign, word spread more quickly through the Internet and allowed community leaders to spend their time working on creating the memorial fund and other organizing, rather than spreading news of the vigil.

According to Fleck, the events of the last week have encouraged more online interaction. There are more page views and visits at the Seward Profile blog and an increase in subscribers for both the Neighbors forum and Twitter. (Some 700 people have already viewed Fleck’s post on the shooting.) So while it doesn’t lessen the tragedy of last week, the importance of neighborhood networks has been highlighted in Seward and connections are building as more neighbors engage online.