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Does social media have the power to change the world?

It has been said that Social Media is the most important change in mass communication since the printing press. But, can it change the world?

The seismic shift in the way we communicate

The seismic shift in the way we communicate has positive and negative outcomes for development. Would the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 happen without social media?

Gladwell (2010) argues that key activists in revolutions risk their lives on the streets and rely on strong ties with other individuals in the movement, whereas social media is based around weak ties.

Clay Shirky (2011), however, posits that social media tools have made group formation “ridiculously easy” and thus the ability to mobilise people at speed to enable collective action.

The early adopters of social media as a communication tool

Charities

Charities were early adopters of social media as a communication and marketing tool. There have been many successful campaigns such as the Greenpeace deforestation advocacy campaign using Barbie parodies, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which raised millions of dollars for their cause.

Broadcasters

Social Media has made it easier than ever before for large broadcasters to report on issues around the world and with cuts in budgets, it can be much more cost-effective to utilise citizen or activist generated media.

International development agencies and NGOs

Social Media has undoubtedly changed the way we communicate, it empowers individuals and enables communities to share information and have a collective voice.

It has been used by international development agencies and NGOs to crowdsource information during disasters such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

NGOs have also employed social media to raise awareness of humanitarian issues, fundraise and report from the field.

However, there are also a number of negative aspects of social media including cyberbullying, privacy, surveillance, criminality and cultural imperialism to name but a few.

References:

Gladwell, M (2010) Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted. The New Yorker

Shirky, C (2009) Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin Books.

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Why Does Media Matter for Development?

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