Social media allows each person to be a part of the conversation, rather than just an observer of it. But talk is one thing. Results are another. So is it really possible to bring about changes in governmental policy through social media?
It can certainly be a tool to fuel grassroots activism. For instance, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street started with recruitment and mobilization on social media. The ease and simplicity of communication allowed both to share information and promote their messages. Both ballooned into massive movements that spread on a national and international scale.
Additionally, Barack Obama recognized the power of social media when he first ran for President. By reaching out to voters directly online in addition to traditional media appearances and campaigning. It worked pretty well. Regardless of what his legacy as President will be, his influence in political campaigning will unarguably leave lasting legacy.
But the case of Obama also, in a way, represents the limits of social media as a tool for change. While he was able to go from a Washington newcomer to President in a short amount of time, he’s a Democrat, still a member of the two-party establishment. Occupy had more radical ideas than the establishment, and while they may have become a part of the conversation, they have had little luck finding elected support.
That’s in this country, where we have political and intellectual freedom. In the case of the Arab spring, where those rights aren’t always guaranteed, the results have with little exception gone one of two ways. Either those in power crackdown on dissent (like Syria), or if a regime is ousted, the vacuum is filled by those with all the power (Egypt).
In fact, another case from that region exhibits how social media can be used for propaganda. ISIS, the terror group that has risen to power in Iraq and Syria, has used social media to spread their message, make threats and showcase their might. They have even “hijacked” popular hashtags for greater exposure. To us, these posts are horrifying. To extreme minded individuals with sympathies toward ISIS’s anti-Western beliefs, it probably a good recruiting tool.
A Tool of the Masses
In short, social media is a tool, but it’s a tool that can be used by the powers that be as well as the masses. As this platform continues to evolve, where do you see it going and where will it take us?
Like all media, consume wisely.