Social Media as a Tool for Change

by sn2s

People around the world use social media as a means voice opinions and effect change. Citizen journalism is one aspect of this, but I’m more strictly talking about the pressure generated by mass outcry.

Whenever something happens that a lot of people dislike, they take to social media to voice their opinions. If no physical actions are taken, it seems to end there: voiced opinions. I thought of and found a few examples of media outcry with differing results.

Twitter and Facebook were used heavily by protesters and rebels during the Arab Spring. People coordinated protests and conveyed intelligence. The pressure was large enough to tell people that they weren’t alone. This is an example where those voices turned into actions. Knowing how many people support the same ideas likely encourages people to take actions they wouldn’t normally take.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper voted to fund the NSA following the privacy violations and received an almost entirely social media response. The response only accomplished a story being written about the response. This is a low pressure example.

The Occupy movement was spurred by mass outcry which spread through social media. This is a more complex example. Voices turned to actions like the Arab Spring with people living in parks and occasionally taking to the streets. Initially, the pressure seemed to have been great. After all, people came outside and they gained a lot of mainstream attention, but in the end the pressure was not great enough to accomplish anything.

Many people credit the 2008 Obama campaign’s use of social media for his winning of the election. This may be an example of social media effecting change mixed with racism guiding votes. It’s really too hard to tell.

Social media also carries an interesting aspect known as the bystander effect. The bystander effect is where people do nothing because so many others claim they will. Francisco Dao notes this with a project by Brian Solis to raise money, more people shared the cause rather than donating. People seemed to feel that digital influence equated to real donations.

Dao lists 3 traits of the bystander effect:

  1. Ambiguity of need.
  2. Cohesiveness of a group.
  3. Option of diffusing responsibility.

People are more likely to take actions when they realize the need, share a strong bond with the issue and feel significant enough to make a difference. These points provide more invaluable information to anyone running a social media campaign. If the campaign cannot make people feel important enough or needed, it risks creating thousands of bystanders without any doers. I think users wishing to spark a movement will need to learn new ways to motivate people beyond likes and shares if they want to accomplish a real-world goal.