How Social Media is changing the world

globe On the surface, social media seems merely a platform to chat to friends, share photos and to laugh at funny pictures of cats. In recent times however, social media has become a huge part of events and conflict all over the world, including most recently the protests in Ukraine.

Freedom of speech

One important thing to note is the freedom of speech social media allows, and how this may have impacted opinions in users. Before social media, news stories were obviously accessible, although often told through a third party. Now, social media users have access to networks on laptops, smart phones and tablets; we are constantly connected wherever we go. We can access news and videos across the globe written by ‘real’ people, not just from journalists.

Terrorism

So is this a good thing? Social media has made it easier to raise awareness and in some cases this has been beneficial. Recently however, social media has been used as a platform to organise terrorist activity following the recent protests in Ukraine on social media site VKontakte. The protest sites and social media movements included direct appeals for terrorism from “Ukrainian nationalist organisations” and encouraged members to engage in mass disruption. These sites have since been removed and blocked by Russia. This collective activism was also present from the beginning of the Arab Spring; a revolutionary wave of protests and demonstrations. The 2010 UK election was seen as the ‘first social media election’ with younger social media users almost unable to avoid stumbling across related groups and instantaneous posts. Twitter allowed users to view a ‘live feed’ of events, with thousands of opinionated tweeters showcasing their views to the world. Political parties embraced this social media in an attempt to connect and relate with followers, especially with the younger generation. In the 2010 election, 14,000 voter registration forms were downloaded from Facebook alone.

These examples show just how powerful social networks can be in huge life-changing events. Collective activism allows users to feel a ‘part’ of something and with combined collective intelligence users have immense power to support a collective action, such as ferment a political change.

Is social media participation in politics positive?

I believe the increase in social media participation in politics and crises can be positive. Individuals, especially the younger generation are at least gaining knowledge about current affairs, and good or bad, this knowledge will assist them in gaining a well rounded and factual opinion. However, is it possible that the collective activism spurred by social media could become too powerful? Maybe. The ease of communication for terrorist groups and encouragement of disruptive behaviour is present, as seen with Ukraine, but can be blocked and regulated by higher authorities. This for me is where the problem lies. If social media is being overseen and regulated, how much of what we think we know is true, and how much is actually false, regulated, or removed before the masses can view it? For me, the old saying ‘don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers’ goes for social media too. With hundreds of articles using various sources every day, it’s hard to know what to believe.

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