Social media won’t support change… on its own

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 13.01.32Social media is allowing us to reach new audiences, disseminate research and information and ultimately connect with anyone anywhere at the drop of  a hat. Is that to say though, that we are using this ever increasing phenomenon to it’s full potential?

In recent years we have seen social media being used to facilitate campaigns and capture public attention. The kony 2012 campaign, The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement are just some of the most cited examples of how the internet and social media is used. However, although we assume these campaigns were successful, to what extent did they lead to change?

Campaigns and their impact

In Indonesia the use of social media has rocketed, they are the 5th largest users of social media in the world. Indonesian activists have especially taken a shine to using social media as the tool to bring attention to a number of issues,

The Lapindo drilling disaster, 29th May 2006 was the source of some serious social media campaigns from different activists demanding that the company take responsibility for the disaster, and pay compensation to those affected. Although online the cause generated significant support it has not been able to successfully advocate for change outside the internet.

The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community in Indonesia have used social media in new creative and innovative ways to ensure they have a space to share news and discuss issues against the strict legislation. The online network that the LGBT community uses is called OurVoice, and although the community has a space to share and gain some solidarity the policy and legislation in Indonesia still remains the same.

Can social media change the world?

The pattern that is emerging around online campaigns around social issues is that they are impulsive and reactive, but alone do not lead to substantial change in policy. The most widely known evidence of this is the Kony 2012 Campaign, a viral video that called for pledges to arrest Joseph Kony. Although it reached a tremendous 100 million people in 6 days and created some of the best online statistics for an online campaign, the issue itself seems to have just faded from public consciousness.

All this seems to suggest that social media sites are playing an important role in modern day activism, grabbing public attention and expressing important thoughts and ideas, but alone social media does not seem to be able to change the world.

3 Responses

  1. David Girling

    I agree that social media alone cannot change the world. At the end of the day social media is just the technology that people are using to create conversation, mobilise etc. However, without social media would some of the changes have happened? Kony 2012 is not a great example as it did more harm than good, but there is no doubt it is a brilliant case study about storytelling and virality.

    There are loads of case studies and a growing body of academic literature about the positive and negative aspects of social media around the world: The Chile Winter, fighting crime in Latin America, mobile health, anti-corruption, disaster management etc etc. With the ever increasing diffusion of smart phones and mobile web I hope we will hear of more and more positive stories in the future.

  2. Betty Paton

    This seems to me to be the start of an interesting debate Emma…We can see that social media is a powerful and far-reaching force – but how can its viral potential be harnessed to ensure that it does good rather than bad. David, I agree that it would be great to see more examples of stories where social media is effecting positive change and here’s a great one:
    “Crisis mapper” Patrick Meier has launched a new crowdsourcing tool that filters through the chaotic images, posts, tweets and blogs that appear online across social media after a huge crisis event (for example post-Typhoon Yolanda) and sorts through the data and displays it on satellite maps for aid workers to utilise. Social media plays such a huge part in so many lives now – and this number is ever-growing. Let’s hope we continue to tap into its potential for bringing about effective action.

  3. Emma Clunie

    Thank you David for your comment, I agree that social media is making important
    advances and supporting change in a variety of different ways. The interest I have
    is in exploring the limits of social media and the need to sometimes say that on its
    its own social media is not enough. Other tools and approaches, such as print,
    radio, television, and face-to-face dialogue still play a vitally important and
    strategic role in many contexts.”

    Thank you Betty for your example, I would love to see more examples and
    campaigns where the leap of raising awareness with social media has lead
    to effective change.

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