Now that citizens all around the world have access to efficient and cheap communications technology, we have entered an age where anyone can get their message out, however small, however ambitious, and get the attention of those that they may previously have been ignored by. We have new tools which flatten the media landscape, and it is important to label them as ‘tools’, because they cannot start revolutions, movements, change; it is people who do that (Morozov 2011). These tools provide opportunities for professionals and citizens, stimulating stories with varying degrees of bias, evidence, and authenticity. It is now, post 2010, in the ’20s’ of our century, when we see the proven potential of the tools of Web 2.0 e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube/Vimeo, Instagram etc, particularly their potential for change, as they become native tools like television and radio. This is a point made by Clay Shirky in his TED talk ‘How Social Media Can Make History’:
Shirky makes the point that when we start to take tools like these for granted, it is then that the media landscape truly changes. And it has; the changes that digital media have made to the way people (especially people in cities and suburbs) interact with media and distribute messages has changed for good. The biggest change has been the fact that groups and individuals can create dialogues simultaneously, that we don’t have to choose between one-to-one communication (Facebook chats/Snapchat/Twitter conversations) and one-to-many communication (YouTube & Vimeo videos/blogging).
We don’t have to go global to see the effectiveness of social, digital tools in linking people who want to challenge political and cultural norms. When schools collapsed in the Sichuan Province of China during an earthquake, social media tools were used by locals to gather donations for affected families and to raise awareness of the tragedy. When word started to get out that the reason that the schools collapsed was due to government officials being paid off so builders didn’t have to follow strict building codes, social media tools showed their rearing, angry head; photos of these officials, of those who had been killed in the tragedy, and news concerning this new information was spread far and wide, much to the detriment of the Chinese government, who tried to shut down the conversation. But the news was out, aided by the viral quality of controversial information, spread throughout China, and the world, using social media and the Internet, and the only things that could be censored were the angry voices of the people who had been affected.
It is foolish to say that the Arab Spring was caused by social media or the Internet. This ignores the decades upon decades of the mistreatment and anger, the poverty, desperation and corruption rife in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (Morozov 2011). Additionally, a huge proportion of the citizens in these countries do not have access to or have never taken to social media or the Internet. But we can call the Egyptian Revolution a ‘Twitter Revolution’, because the activism which sparked the revolution, which itself was a reaction to the horrific events which truly caused the revolution, was a catalyst for the Egyptian population to tip over the edge; to stand up to a point that the whole world noticed. A major result of the ‘Twitter Revolution’ was that it revealed the inadequacies of the West and our obsession with democracy; we engaged in ‘slacktivism’ (Popova 2010) and called for the Arab states to take up our model of democracy, as angry, compassionate ‘citizens of the world’ (like myself might I add) signed online petitions and watched news updates with their hearts in their mouths.
I look closer to home to see the importance of social media; we may have a government now who ignores the biggest online petition to ever be created on change.org (Battersby 2013), but we can have conversations about race, gender, mental health, sexuality, and politics freely and without censorship on social media, changing minds, and even laws (Bennett 2013), showing that when we try to change things step by step, we can get somewhere.