Social media is arguably one of the definitive technologies of the 21st century and it’s difficult sometimes to pry people away from their Facebook or Twitter, but does social media have the power to change the world?
Using social media to affect social change, or slacktivism as its sometimes known is sometimes seen as a waste of time. Critics claim that slacktivists use ‘feel good’ measures to show their support of an issue or social cause but this has little physical or practical effect other than making the person feel like they’ve contributed.
However in response to criticism of slacktivism, experts have argued if activism is about raising awareness, changing people’s minds, and influencing opinions across the world, then ‘the revolution will be indeed be tweeted’, ‘hashtagged’, and ‘YouTubed’.
Here’s a small selection of s0me of the good that social media has done.
In April this year, Nepal was struck by a huge earthquake which killed over 9,000 people, and injured more than 23,000. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake.
Hundreds were made homeless as whole villages were flattened and aftershocks plagued the country for days afterwards, causing smaller landslides. Hundreds of people were reported missing, including a number of tourists.
In response to the earthquakes Facebook did what they could to help the Nepalese people and tried to help them find those who’d been affected by the disaster. The company activated their ‘check in systems‘ which allowed users to notify their friends and family that they were safe. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the activation in a post on his Facebook wall.
This morning we activated Safety Check for people affected by the earthquake in Nepal. It’s a simple way to let family and friends know you’re okay.
If you’re in one of the areas affected by the earthquake, you’ll get a notification asking if you’re safe, and whether you want to check on any of your friends.
When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe. It’s moments like this that being able to connect really matters.
My thoughts are with everyone who’s been caught up in this tragedy.
Later in the year Facebook activated its safety check-in system again during the November Paris attacks so users in Paris could alert friends and family that they were safe. This was the first time the company had activated the service during a non-natural disaster. Facebook also encouraged users to overlay the image of the French flag to “support France and the people of Paris”. This was done to show solidarity with the country’s suffering and let the French people know that the world stood with them.
Facebook has also helped in the ongoing European migrant crisis. A number of Croatian Facebook commenters set up groups to help migrants use alternate routes through Europe, after Hungary began policing its borders. They also urged the migrants to be careful when crossing the Croatia–Serbia border, because of the large number of active landmines not yet removed since the 1990’s War of Independence.
However perhaps one of the greatest things that the social media giant did was allow the world to learn of the desperation and suffering of those trying to leave the Middle East and escape into Europe. This September a tragic picture emerged of a young boy who drowned while attempting to escape Syria. The photos caused worldwide and were shared through social media as well as across a number of online newspapers, becoming an iconic reminder of the human cost of what was happening in the Middle East. This has led to renewed pressure on European governments to do whatever they can to help these unfortunate people.
Twitter is a wonderful platform for raising public awareness of what’s happening around the world as the two terrible attacks in Paris showed this year.
In January, two lunatic brothers forced their way into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie and killed 11 people, wounding 11 more.
The world was outraged and in a show of solidarity with the French people began tweeting the hashtag #jesuischarlie. The slogan which is French for “I am Charlie” was made by French art director, Joachim Roncin, and was created in an attempt to show solidarity and sympathy for those affected by the attacks.
‘Je suis Charlie’ began trending on the day of the attack. By the next day it had appeared more than 3.4 million times, and was being used nearly 6,500 times per minute. A number of online newspapers put the slogan in their banners and in the days following the attack the slogan was spread around the world as it came to terms with what had happened.
The use of #jesuischarlie quickly evolved though, with journalists using it to discuss censorship and issues of freedom of speech. Journalist Peter Bella, wrote on his blog: “The hashtag, #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie), was created to support Charlie Hebdo, the victims, and freedom of the press, speech, and expression. I am Charlie. You are Charlie. We are all Charlie.”
Tragedy struck Paris again later in the year when ISIS committed a barbaric attack on the French capital, killing 130 people and injuring a further 350. In the confusion and aftermath of the attacks the world united online to show solidarity and support for the French people once again.
The Twitter hashtag #PorteOuverte, French for #OpenDoor, began to trend worldwide and offered overnight shelter to strangers stranded by the attacks. To help matters the online room renting site AirBnB asked people to offer up their accommodation for free, to help people who had nowhere to go.
The image of a modified international peace symbol, with the central fork replaced with an Eiffel tower, was shared 70 million times over Instagram often with the hashtags #PeaceForParis, #PrayForParis, #PrayForFrance and #JeSuisParis. In the wake of the attack, phrases such as “Je Suis Paris” and “We are all Parisians” appeared on news broadcasts and social media websites worldwide to show solidarity with the victims.
Muslims also used twitter to condemn the attacks, using the hashtag #NotInMyName and #MuslimsAreNotTerrorist, the former of which had been used by Muslims in the past to condemn the actions of ISIS.
In 2011 a Tumblr blog was created called “wearethe99percent.tumblr.com“, this was the beginning of the political ‘Occupy movement’. The phrase refers to the income and wealth inequality in America where one per cent control the vast majority of the wealth in the country despite them being in the minority.
The blog was started by a 28-year-old New York activist going by the name of “Chris” together with Priscilla Grim. The term “we are the 99%” became the rallying cry of the Occupy movement. This movement was protest against social and economic inequality around the world. Groups around the world would ‘occupy ‘public and private spaces, disrupting the day to day going’s on in an effort to raise awareness of economic disparity.
Many commentators criticised the movement saying it had little tangible success, but the results of the result were surprising. Google Trends show a near threefold jump in the search term “income inequality” during late 2011, during the camps. Meanwhile The American Dialect Society deemed “Occupy” to be the 2011 Word of the Year.
Google is no stranger to lending a hand during a disaster, they’ve activated their person finder tool during a number of disaster, most recently during the Nepalese earthquake this year. The app allowed individuals to post details and to search for friends or relatives they believed were in the area of earthquake.
Google Person Finder had two options: “I’m looking for someone” and “I have information about someone.” The app helped those looking for somebody lost or trapped to search for his or her name in an online database. Also, an individual affected by the quake could let friends or relatives that they were safe.
The person finder tool is part of Google’s Crisis Response Toolkit, which offers a number of services to try and help when disaster strikes. The first feature of this is alerting the world that the disaster has happened, the second is the person finder and the last part is creating an up to date relief map so that people can find medical assistance and also know what area’s to avoid.
Also during the November Paris attack Google announced through its social media channels that it was making Hangouts calls to France free to allow people to check if friends and family were safe.
The company wrote on its Google+, Twitter, and Facebook pages: “We’re thinking of you, Paris. No fees on calls to France, via Hangouts. #ParisAttacks,”.
Last year Snapchat, teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to raise awareness of the plight of endangered species.
The WWF launched the #LastSelfie campaign, which compared the brief moment you can see a snapchat to the threat facing many species around the world.
The campaign spot read: “In a way Snapchat is a mirror of real life… The images you see are transient, instant, unique, yet only live for a few seconds. Just like these endangered animals.”