3 Ways Social Media Helps Bring About Social and Democratic Change

Opinion28.02.2017
woman at computer

When people think about social media, what usually comes to mind are pictures of friends, food, cat memes, Facebook advertisements, and the never-ending supply of some form of news or the other. However, in the past few years with the rise of social media usage amongst people all around the world, prominent social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have increasingly become platforms for people to “gather” around a social cause/change. While some of these make headlines in major news media, the reality is that every day, quite a few movements are being created and people are engaging in bringing about change in policy and political issues. It is without doubt that the days of physically gathering in locations has been complemented by people gathering online to voice their opinions and push for social, economic and democratic change. One very prominent platform that you can see this happening on is Change.org. To date the platform has over 180 million people taking action and supporting petitions and causes they care about. The platform has also led to over 20,000 victories in around 196 countries. Increasingly Facebook is also becoming a platform where communities are being created around social and political issues. Here are some ways these platforms have helped social and democratic change:

Amplification of the message/cause.

Since the Internet reaches far and wide globally, even in developing countries, online platforms have become a useful place of “gathering” for people who wish to bring about change. Even without the aid of news agencies or government bodies, it is not uncommon today to see petitions being signed by millions of people with positive results. Even more, with more nonprofit organizations active on social media platforms like Facebook, online campaigns like Earth Hour (World Wildlife Fund), not only serves as very powerful education tool but also a tool to raise public awareness of climate change. The movement itself started out as a physical gathering and over the past few years has become an annual event that people engage with online and in physical locations around the world. With increasing numbers of people engaging with the movement, it is evident that there is more awareness on the issue today than ever before, and as a consequence environmental policies are gaining ground in many developing countries.    

Bridging geographical boundaries.

The Internet has broken down geographical boundaries in both business and social realms. With the surge in the growth of the global digital economy, physical distance between businesses and markets has become a reality much easier and cheaper to deal with. This also holds true for online movements around specific causes. One only needs to look up such groups like “save our oceans” or “reduce global plastic” online and in a matter of seconds be led to sign up platforms where you can then engage with people from all around the world who share the same values and ethical principles. Online platforms have made it easier and safer for people to participate in the change they want to see. Without a doubt, in some countries where people’s freedoms are restricted, physical gatherings are not as easy and can pose a danger to the safety of participants as well as law enforcement. But with online campaigns and movements, more people are willing to participate given that there still is a wall of security that makes it safer to voice opinions freely. Often these online campaigns are then cited by traditional mainstream media, giving them greater political relevance.

Increase in the speed of change.

With an increase in the number of people engaging in online petitioning, social campaigns, and political movements, the weight in numbers have meant that change has actually been made. Governments have been pressured into taking action on behalf of the people and governments are able to gauge the public’s sentiment towards certain issues at a much faster pace. One very recent example of this has been President Trump’s planned state visit to the UK. With the announcement of Donald Trump’s visit, an online petition was almost immediately set up online to urge the government to call off the visit. More than 1.3 million people signed the petition. While the state visit is till on, he will most probably not be invited to address parliament as a result. If you also recall during the onset of the refugee crisis when a lot of European countries were scrambling to figure out the best immigration strategies to implement, in the UK about 450,000 people signed a petition urging the government to allow Syrian refugees to be allowed into the UK. The government consequently decided to resettle an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees and commit an additional 100 million pounds on humanitarian aid.

We are living in a time of political change all around the world, some more dramatic than others. But we are also living in a time where the Internet and technology have enabled people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world to come together and engage in a plethora of social, economic and democratic causes. This has also meant that while in some countries the physical gathering of people around causes is not as easily organized, doing so online has proven to be cost effective, fast, and in many cases effective. Social media platforms and other online platforms have provided an alternative way to bring about change in society and this is expected to grow even more significantly in the coming decade.