As we begin to close out this amazing year of growth (ubiquity?) of social media in 2011, it is time to take a look back and try to grasp at the true significance social media plays in our daily lives.
Years ago, the masses were silent. As I often present in my speeches, up until just a little more than two decades ago mass communication was one way, and information was only served through television, radio and print. Today, with the vastness of the Internet and the rise of mobile technology, the masses have suddenly found themselves with virtual megaphones that are heard throughout the world. Social media has given people the freedom to speak, and in some instances has become a catalyst in helping to potentially change the course of history.
Let’s take a look back at some of the amazing events that have happened – and the role that social media played in them as a catalyst for social change:
Social Movement: Egypt’s Digital Revolution
When the youth of Egypt decided that the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak was enough, nobody foresaw their weapon of choice – social media. It has been said that the revolution started with one Facebook post sent late in the evening of January 14, 2011. Roughly translated, it simply read: “Message to the people of Egypt: let January 25 be the torch of change in Egypt.”
While some have downplayed the importance of social media in the Egypt Revolution, this post was one of the factors that led to the first massive protest in Tahrir Square. The government, which then had control over traditional media, shut down phone and Internet networks to keep a semblance of control, but the determined activists used everything from dial-up connections to proxy servers in order to stay connected. #jan25 became one of the most famous Twitter hashtags in Egypt’s history. Through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and the world watched as history unfolded in real-time.
Relief Operations: Japan’s 2011 Quake
In March 11, Japan was rocked by an 8.9 magnitude quake, followed by one of the most devastating tsunamis in history – and then a meltdown at a nuclear power plant which Japan is still trying to deal with. With telecommunications immediately after the tsunami down, most people relied on the Internet through their mobile phones to connect with worried relatives, as well as to spread the word about the state of hard-hit areas.
The world monitored the calamity online. YouTube records more than 15,000 and earthquake and tsunami video uploads, each showing the magnitude of the disaster and relaying individual fears and desperation. Google created a web application called “Person Finder” in order to help families and victims connect. Twitter usage spiked – #Fukushima, #Sendai, #Japan and Text REDCROSS trended, as Netizens rallied for aid, attaching #prayforjapan in every tweet. Social media became a source of information, aid, and comfort.
Political Awareness: Tunisia’s Virtual Voices
With its recent elections, Tunisia finally found its voice after more than 20 years of silence under an oppressive regime. And all this happened within several months of its first public demonstrations.
Until recently, social media was a political taboo – the regime of former president Zine el-Abidine blocked sites and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Blogs were monitored, and those who wrote political commentaries were harassed. These censorships only added fuel to the fire as citizens fought back and found ways to remain online. During the chain of revolutions that swept Arab nations, social networks raised awareness and activism among Tunisians, giving them a venue to discuss political issues and push for freedom of speech.
In the days after the resignation of Zine el-Abidine, the censorship on social media was lifted, and more than 2,000 tweets were posted daily. Almost 200 printed publications have been given licenses for production. Bloggers, journalists, and citizens alike have been ensured of their freedom of expression without censorship or penalty. Social media has aided in opening the doors of a more global Tunisia.
Non-Profit Movements for Social Change: Twestival
What started out as a night-out-for-a-cause among “tweeps” (Twitter people) in London soon became a worldwide Twitter phenomenon known as Twestival. Twestival, short for “Twitter-Festival”, was the brainchild of Amanda Rose, a free agent practicing PR and events management, who has a great interest in social media and an even greater love for causes. From an event that supported a local non-profit organization for the homeless, Amanda and her team decided to make something bigger. The idea to mount simultaneous Twestivals around the world was born.
The project quickly took a life of its own. Twestival Global was launched in January 2009, where 202 cities hosted charity events that raised $250,000 for water-deprived areas of Ethiopia. In 2010, the worldwide twitter event raised more than $450,000 for Concern Worldwide, a non-profit organization that fights hunger and sickness in 25 different nations.
In 2011, Twestival Global transformed into Twestival Local, urging volunteers from around the world to support charities in their own countries. One-hundred and fifty cities participated in the event, including Manila, which supported JeepneED, a non-profit group that aims to build a Jeepney powered by used vegetable oil that would become a “traveling classroom” containing computers, books and other educational tools. Its aim is to bring education to far-flung provinces and municipalities in the Philippines.
Twestival Local 2011 was able to raise $565,000 for local charities around the world – all through the power of social media.
Social Media and Education: The Singapore Management University
The people of South East Asian nations have a great fascination for social media and content sharing. Armed with this knowledge, Professor Micheal Netzley of the Singapore Management University fully utilized social media in his online communications classes. He urged students to explore blogging platforms and social networks. He used Twitter as a venue to share with his students links to topics relevant to their lectures, as well as to remind them of upcoming deadlines and in-class activities.
One class project that grew a great international fanbase and earned props from professional companies, news and advertising agencies was Digital Media Asia Wiki; an open online resource that presents up-to-date information on online trends and movements in the digital media landscape. The project was later on reviewed by The New York Times, and garnered some of Netzley’s students offers for internships in Ogilvy Asia.
Not only has social media kept open communication lines between Netzley and his students, but it also has given them the edge when it comes to online competency and relationship-building.
With the birth of social media, connectivity has become instantaneous. Real-time communication and social will has turned into the masses’ most powerful weapon for social change that can topple governments and heal nations. It seems that social media has transcended its initial purpose of simply connecting friends; it has become the doorway to the world. As people realize that the voice of one can reach billions, social media will go on reinventing itself into a faster, smarter, and sleeker mode of communication that will continue to build virtual bridges everywhere – and help societies deal with challenges in new and more communal ways.
What are your favorite examples of how social media has been a catalyst for social change?