Last time we opted to leap into the prolific and controversial topic of social media’s place in society; largely focusing on the less stellar and redeeming features of its existence. These ranged from privacy concerns to the level of control it exerts on lives. However, to merely posture ourselves as pure critics thrashing such technology would be an immense disservice and as such, it’s only prudent to look at the benefits and positive aspects of social media. Thus, today, we’ll be looking at how social media proved to be instrumental and invaluable in our modern world.
A Vehicle of Democracy
Anyone remember the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in Egypt a decade ago? Well before Twitter and Facebook had grown into the digital behemoths they are today, these two platforms proved invaluable to protesters as a vehicle of organization, cooperation and sharing stories. The ability to quickly find like-minded individuals, voice opinions freely and mobilize for in-person gatherings have been instrumental around the world for many interest groups, protest movements and social forces for change. Whether this change and the ideology behind it are wholly positive is another debate entirely however what stands is the fact that a ‘Global Forum’ has been created.
No longer is discourse tied to the traditional gatherings points and zones of convergence for conversation and exchange of ideas. This has been seen with the Hong Kong protests, protests and counter-protests surrounding America’s elections and the ‘globalization’ of democratic principles via the internet. Indeed, a piece by BBC highlighted social media’s role as the lynchpin behind Hong Kong’s democracy protests. Interestingly, a report from CNBC further noted that digital security experts observed how social media became a 2nd battleground for the protests as well. Supporters and opponents frequently duked it out online, not just from Hong Kong and China but around the world, effectively turning it into a global rather than a solely local clash of ideas.
This has not gone unnoticed by administrations and elites around the world. Many policymakers are keen to control media given that unchecked consolidation of interest groups on such a platform will undoubtedly threaten traditional power brokers. Indeed, many governments now preemptively censor social media during times of unrest or even when engaging in major policy shifts or conflicts. We’ve seen this with our mainland neighbour Venezuela and more recently during Ethiopia’s internal ethnic conflicts.
A Haven For Whistleblowers and Independent Journalists
Social media has been one of the greatest boons for whistleblowers around the world. Indeed, many readers would agree that unethical activity and crimes ranging from abuses of power by authorities to everyday acts of corruption would have never seen the light of day or experience speedy responses were it not for social media. Even globally, we’ve seen many powerful individuals and organizations brought low through whistleblowing that began on social media. Indeed, this was the case with individuals in the private sector such as millionaire producer Harvey Weinstein being exposed to national and even international corruption scandals. Revelations from the Panama Papers to human rights abuses by governments around the world stand as a testament to the transparency social media has created through empowering the individual’s voice.
Consequently, this has also laid the foundation for a surge in ‘independent journalists’. Any average Joe or Jane with a camera can now Livestream or actively report events around the world, some with the dedication and professional standards that match even the most established media house. A 2019 piece from Reason noted how independent journalists have effectively forced mainstream media outlets to reassess and rethink themselves. On more than one occasion they found themselves effectively upstaged as independent journalists cover stories they did not, did only partially or, in the case of heavily partisan media houses, covered in a heavily biased and loaded way.
Even when they aren’t challenging the status quo of mainstream media, teams of independent journalists gradually ‘steal’ viewership from media houses, prompting them to innovate and mix up how they offer news as a product. Are you on social media? If so stop for a minute and consider how much new information you receive each week from pages, groups and personas run by independent investigators as opposed to mainstream media. You might be pleasantly surprised.
A New Forefront For Digital Commerce
Have you heard of Live Selling? It’s all the rage in Asia right now and basically involves influential live streamers auctioning and selling products as they stream in real-time. Even among those who weren’t previously considered ‘influencers’, it’s made overnight millionaires of people with the charisma and ability to tap into the demands of a market demographic. In fact, locally you may notice small businesses not just taking to social media but being run entirely from it or conducting their marketing entirely through social media; particularly those with niche clientele. It’s not uncommon for someone’s first target market to be their circle of friends and followers or a group of colleagues with shared interests.
A recent piece from the BBC notes that this year’s Coronavirus pandemic has broken businesses both large and small yet many smaller entities have been saved or hung on through social media. Where a physical presence was simply too costly, certain sellers, creators and producers have been able to move their activity entirely onto social media such as graphic designers, food delivery services and specialty item sellers. Indeed, with more and more people taking to socialize on the internet this year, social media may be the ideal place for a startup.
Simply put, social media has no shortage of benefits and saving graces. While the US political machine attempts to break up social media monopolies, this technology is likely here to stay and will play an increasingly larger role in our lives. Whether the pros outweigh the cons will be left entirely up to you, the user.