Technology’s role in the social sector

I’m no fan of Silicon Valley’s offerings for the social sector, but Causes’ relaunch yesterday sparked an interesting conversation in my Twitter feed on the role of technology in our line of work.

Causes is repositioning itself as a platform for civic engagement. Like before it, Causes works with organizations from varying political ideologies, a political-neutral business practice that has drawn the ire of activists in the past.

In the following exchange, Twitter user @mcbyrne argued with Causes CEO Matthew Mahan that by supporting non-liberal initiatives like the NRA, Causes could not justly claim to be a platform for social good:

Matthew responded by suggesting that Causes is simply a platform for social actions, and that technology is politically neutral:

Which lead to the following counter-argument:

Well, that’s just not true at all. Democracy is letting people voice their opinions. Indeed, what is more democratic than empowering idiots to speak their mind?

The fundamental issue in this debate is what the proper role of technology in the social sector ought to be.

I chose a career in the social sector because I have strongly held beliefs on what change I want to see in the world. Working in the social sector allows me to spend my time working on issues that I care about.

But in my work, like anyone else’s work, I use a lot of tools. And those tools don’t have political agendas. People do, I do, but not my tools. If Causes is indeed a tool, an amplification vessel for political action, then why should the platform take a stand on what people promote on the network?

Technology has done wonders for the world, and even the social sector. But the commercial technology that has aided the social sector has not had stated social agendas. Obviously computers and office productivity software make much of the work we do in the social sector possible. But we don’t think of it as “social sector software”.

In so far as Causes is just a platform for social actions, simply a tool, I find nothing offensive about the company working with organizations from varying ideologies.

Technology’s role in the social sector is no different than technology’s role anywhere. Technology should be useful. It should make it easier to accomplish what we want to see happen in the world. I’m not sure the new Causes is going to set the social sector on fire, but I have no desire to burn it down either.