Week 6 – Social Media and its place in Society

It is an indisputable fact that social media has for all time redefined the way in which society currently functions; it has become such an important aspect of it- so influential in different world cultures- that it has actually proven to have the power as well as the ability to change governments. A perfect example of that is how social media made played a crucial role in both the Egyptian and Libyan revolution.

Social Media is a forum that allows valuable information to be exchanged; users can now become aware and/or stay informed on certain situations that might otherwise never have been brought to light. Recently, the situation in Venezuela- social, political, economic- has deteriorated to the point that street demonstrations continue to erupt, with citizens protesting against the government and its policies causing the government to react through the use of excessive force, a reaction that quickly escalated into violence and police brutality.

What began as Venezuelan citizens peacefully protesting against the current government, fomenting unrest that quickly erupted into deadly riots, with twenty-two casualties and scores injured to date. Protestors used social media to plan their strategies. Unfortunately, there has been minimal, if barely any, media coverage on what is currently happening in that country, and that is largely due to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro control of what the media outlets there are allowed to report. The President has also shut down Venezuela’s access to the Internet, further preventing citizens or journalist from reporting on events or being able to exchange information. (http://www.miamiherald.com)

However, despite the lack of media coverage and obstacles presented by the Maduro government, the continuing political unrest and demonstrations in Venezuela are starting to create a certain momentum in raising global awareness, largely due to social media. Recently, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube videos are being uploaded and used as a way to inform the general public of Venezuela’s tumultuous situation. These videos and posts are continuously being reposted on a users’ page, and because of this, Venezuela is finally getting the type of coverage that the news and media reports have failed to do.

Social media has essentially become a new form of public service announcement, raising awareness to certain situations that, were it not for its existence, would have never had the ability to have such global reach. Because of its ever increasing influence, social media has, in many ways, become also a new form of social activism, one where users are able to, with a quick click of their mouse, sign a petition that could potentially garner enough attention to influence change or bring awareness to a cause and/or law.

And while this form of social activism can benefit a society, in some cases, clicking a mouse is simply not enough for change to occur. The problem now arises when social media is starting to transform a majority of the public into “say-ers” and not “do-ers,” the latter referring to the lack of follow through. When referring to the influence of social media as regards its power in political situations, “Emily Parker, a former Wall Street Journal editorial staffer and State Department staffer states: “Social media alone will not light that spark. What the Internet does create is a new kind of citizen: networked, unafraid, and ready for action.” Wall Street Journal, Monday, March 10/2014. 

            The amount of information that has become so readily and quickly available through social media can be just as detrimental as it is valuable as regards the fine line regarding the authenticity of the information being shared and whether or not it is in fact, valid. The dangers of this can potentially create a certain “virtual” mob mentality amongst its users even before all the information has been proven to be accurate. “Social media can be used to communicate misinformation as readily as it can be used to convey reliable information. For example, “A Gay Girl in Damascus” (Amina Arrat) was one of the more popular Syrian bloggers in the beginning of the uprising, blogging about revolution, sexuality, and repression in Syria. The story fell apart, however, after “Amina” was revealed to be Tom McMaster, a masters student who resided in Scotland. The unmasking of “Amina” as a straight man from Scotland reminded us all how easy it can be to spread lies and use a false identity in cyberspace. It also no doubt undermined the real Syrian activist blogosphere and its receptive audience.” (http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent)

            The posting of personal opinions no longer require an identity given that individuals can virtually posts anything under a false or fake account with the risks associated with doing so all but eliminated. Social media allows every one the opportunity to have a voice- but not a correct name or face- resulting that sometimes these “voices” are working to push an idea or ideal rather than merely a form of expressing one’s own opinion without the price of accountability. Although doing so can result in irreparable damage to the reputation to an individual, business or corporation, there are almost no repercussions for having done so.

However, while social media has essentially given everyone a “voice,” the issue of user privacy continues to be a source of controversy. This is a highly charged issue, given the rate in which technology and information is evolving and progressing on a day-to-day basis, will only further blur the lines of privacy (NSA, anyone?).

Society is becoming more and more transparent and this transition into transparency is largely due as the result of the power and influence of social media. However, social media has not only affected the level of privacy of its users, but it has also affected the way in which politics now function. “We’re looking at how new journalism practices such as WikiLeaks are changing political information systems like Diplomacy – as well as forcing mainstream media to meet people’s expectations of transparency.” (http://blogs.lse.ac.uk)

And while social media has become so engrained in our culture, especially in the way in which society now functions, it is not solely responsible for the changes in which society has undergone, but has merely has contributed to it. There is a certain responsibility that comes with using social media and if it is used properly and authentically, it has the potential to greatly change society for the better. “These may not be revolutions. Social Media does not guarantee positive outcomes. But in the longer term I think that with good research and critical thinking we can use it to contribute to creating a better society.” (http://blogs.lse.ac.uk)









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