BCM 206

Social Media – Force for Social and Political Change

In the current digital world, social media use is phenomenon that has become a daily necessity. It’s a valuable personal communication tool, locally and world-wide, in which to share, create and spread information. It’s used for social interaction, news access and for decision making. The user can connect anytime. Social media is essential for business and is an important medium to promote social, economic and political change, both good and bad. 

Social media use increased in the last 15 years to become a current social phenomenon. According to blogger Frances Dalomba, “Back in 2005 … only about 5% of users in the US were involved in social media. But in 2019, that number grew to about 70%.” (Dalomba, 2020). According to blogger Deyan Georgievs, “An average user spent 2 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media in 2020; and 50.1% of the time spent on mobile was done using social media apps.” (Deyan, 2021) If the percentage of social media users and daily use can have such a meteoric rise, it is obvious these numbers will only increase in the future. 

Resnick, L 2020, “Platform Diversity: Five Social Media Platform to Consider”, Talking Influence, 21 April, viewed 22 October 2021, <https://talkinginfluence.com/2020/04/21/emerging-social-platforms-2020/&gt;

The number of social media platforms have increased as well, from the original Six Degrees in 1997, to the current 21 major apps that now appeal to different demographics, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat etc.

Blogger Frances Dalomba also discusses the 2019 findings of the USA’s Pew Research Centre, involving the survey of social media usage and its popularity among US adults. (Dalomba, 2020) These results found that while the most-used social platforms for adults are YouTube and Facebook; teenagers prefer Snapchat and Instagram, while TikTok is reportedly the fastest growing social network amongst those aged 10-14. Dalomba also reports further Pew Research Centre findings in that “97% of 13-17-year-olds use at least one of seven major online platforms. The average teenager aged 13-18 spends nine hours on social media daily; teenagers ages 8-12 are on for about six hours a day.” (Dalomba, 2020)

Thus, social media use has brought about social change in terms of the daily habits of billions of users; and the incidence of associated social pathologies has increased with its use. Increased usage can lead to social anxiety and exposure to cyberbullying, depression, and age-inappropriate content. Despite public outcry, these problems have seen little improvement, and may increase in future without more education on these issues and preventative legislation.

Social media with its mood-modifying experiences can lead to ‘addiction’. For example, posting a picture to Instagram or Facebook may earn the vulnerable user likes and positive comments which are subconsciously registered as rewards. With the accompanying dopamine, (happiness), release, the user may seek to repeat the feeling often. 

Fear of Missing Out or FOMO – is another mental health ‘addiction’, where users continually check social media sites to avoid missing out on something important. 

Social media sites provide tools which allow comparison with others. Users earn approval for their appearance which can contribute to poor body image. The “selfieholics” and frequent ‘posters’ and ‘scrollers’ are most vulnerable. 

Another major social problem is ‘online versus reality’ regarding communicating with online ‘friends’ – who may be anything but. There have been many documented cases of online trolls and predators grooming the young and the vulnerable for exploitation.

Despite individual use problems, social media can offer society greater convenience and connectivity, which benefits the collective. It promotes civic engagement, like fundraising, social awareness and provides a voice for alternative ideas and expression. 

According to American computer scientist Juan E. Gilbert, in his blog ‘The Role of Social Media in Protests: Mobilising or Polarising?’, he stated “Social media’s power to mobilise people into action is undeniable. Academics and journalists first began to discuss the use of social media as a tool for activism during the 2011 Arab Spring, which became nicknamed the ‘Facebook Revolution’ and the ‘Twitter Uprising’. Since then, social media has been used by activists, protestors, and revolutionaries to attract global support for fights against a range of injustices.” (Gilbert, 2021)

In January 2011, Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz, used her Facebook video blog to encourage all Egyptians to demand their human rights and depose the corrupt and repressive 30-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Mass uprisings resulted. An anonymous protester stated they used Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate them, and YouTube to tell the world. 

However, social media is not only a mechanism to achieve social and political freedom. It has been used as a tool of political and social oppression. The totalitarian government of China strictly limits access to western social media sites lest democratic ideas and values cause dissention there. China also uses its domestic social media sites for communist propaganda. The Taliban uses Twitter to advance its religious and Islamic theocracy dogma.

Lorenzobrizzo, 2021, “5 Most Poplar Platforms for Social Media Marketing in China”, Neal Schaffer, 6 June, viewed 22 October 2021, <https://nealschaffer.com/social-media-marketing-china-platforms/&gt;

In the West social media being is used by right-wing political and religious individuals/ groups to champion conservative ideas/philosophies. In the future, the mega rich may use this medium to champion their quest for economic and political power, which could endanger the democratic freedoms. Former US President and billionaire Donald Trump has announced that, since being banned by Facebook and Twitter for his role in inciting the 2021 US Capitol insurrection, he will launch his own social media app, TRUTH social – ‘a platform for everyone to express their feelings’. His aim is to create a rival to the big tech companies that have shut him out and denied him the megaphone that was paramount to his national rise. (Colvin, 2021)

AFP, 2021, “‘Truth Social’: Trump launches his own social media site to resist ‘tyranny of Big Tech’”, DAWN, 21 October, viewed 23 October 2021, <https://www.dawn.com/news/1653186&gt;.

In the future digital companies may reinvent themselves in order to implement new technologies and restore their flagging popularity with users. For example, Facebook has announced it will embrace metaverse – a phenomenon where virtual reality gives users the ability to explore interconnected digital sites as though they were worlds. Big tech companies are planning to build standards and platforms that could house everything a web-user could want or need within a single virtual universe that they control. (Chan & O’Brien, 2021)

Neon, Q 2021, “Facebook Is Reportedly Changing Its Name, and Here Are Some Honest Suggestions”, The Quint, 20 October, viewed 23 October 2021,  <https://www.thequint.com/neon/facebook-honest-name-suggestions-mark-zuckerberg&gt;

Social media use is a phenomenon that has undergone an extraordinary escalation in the last 15 years, with the increase in individual users and the growth in the number of platforms. However, while it has brought benefits like improved communication and promoted political change, it has also resulted in the proliferation of some social pathologies. In the future the social media landscape may become more sophisticated, and we will have to be more vigilant in educating and legislating to reduce its negative effects and promote its advantages.

References:

AFP, 2021, “‘Truth Social’: Trump launches his own social media site to resist ‘tyranny of Big Tech’”, DAWN, 21 October, viewed 23 October 2021, <https://www.dawn.com/news/1653186&gt;.

Alaimo, K 2015, ‘How the Facebook Arabic Page “We Are All Khaled Said” Helped Promote the Egyptian Revolution’, SAGE Journals, vol. 1, no. 2.

‘Beaten to Death for Using the Internet’, Human rights first, 11 June 2010, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2010/06/11/beaten-to-death-for-using-the-internet&gt;.

Chan, K, O’Brien, M 2021, “Facebook plans to hire 10,000 in Europe to build ‘metaverse’”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/facebook-plans-to-hire-10000-in-europe-to-build-metaverse-20211019-p5913a.html&gt;.

Chandra, R 2018, ‘How to Use Social Media Wisely and Mindfully’, Media & tech, 16 January, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_use_social_media_wisely_and_mindfully&gt;.

Colvin, J 2021, “Dumped by Twitter, Trump launches rival he’s calling TRUTH Social”, The Sydney Morning Herald,21 October, viewed 23 October 2021, <https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/trump-launches-new-twitter-rival-he-s-calling-truth-social-20211021-p59210.html&gt;.

Dalomba, F 2020, ‘Pros and Cons of Social Media’, Lifespan, 3 February, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://www.lifespan.org/lifespan-living/social-media-good-bad-and-ugly&gt;.

Deyan, G 2021, ‘How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media in 2021?’, Techjury, 2 October, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://techjury.net/blog/time-spent-on-social-media/#gref>.

Gilbert, E 2021, ‘The Role of Social Media in Protests: Mobilising or Polarising?’, Initiative, 6 April, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://89initiative.com/the-role-of-social-media-in-protests-mobilising-or-polarising/&gt;.

Hicks, N 2010, ‘Man Beaten to Death for Using the Internet: Web Chat with Egyptian Activist on the Ground’, HuffPost, 21 June, viewed 20 October 2021, <https://www.huffpost.com/entry/man-beaten-to-death-for-u_b_619364&gt;.

Lorenzobrizzo, 2021, “5 Most Poplar Platforms for Social Media Marketing in China”, Neal Schaffer, 6 June, viewed 22 October 2021, <https://nealschaffer.com/social-media-marketing-china-platforms/&gt;.

Neon, Q 2021, “Facebook Is Reportedly Changing Its Name, and Here Are Some Honest Suggestions”, The Quint, 20 October, viewed 23 October 2021,  <https://www.thequint.com/neon/facebook-honest-name-suggestions-mark-zuckerberg&gt;.

Resnick, L 2020, “Platform Diversity: Five Social Media Platform to Consider”, Talking Influence, 21 April, viewed 22 October 2021, <https://talkinginfluence.com/2020/04/21/emerging-social-platforms-2020/&gt;.

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