Should the Power of Social Media Be Freely Used to Shape Public Opinion?

“In 2005, world leaders unanimously agreed to uphold the responsibility to protect”. This gives inherent rights to every single human being to be protected from crimes against humanity — first by one’s own country, then by the global community. This promise is proven to be unfulfilled in way too many cases all around the world (“Kony 2012: Part ll — Beyond Famous”). People are actually SEEING each other now through campaigns on social media. People now want to help each other. People now want to protect each other. It is an ongoing debate whether or not campaigns on SNS are effective and sufficient in raising a cause, helping fight crime, or even saving humanity. Should the power of social media be freely used to shape public information internationally? What are the risks involved? What is the outcome? All these questions are debatable as well as highly negotiable and there can be no fixed answer.

“Humanitarian campaigners and organizations have started to exploit social media to reach potential donors and to raise awareness for their causes. It is not difficult to see why. Social media, and social networking sites (SNS) in particular, are simply too big to ignore” (Madianou, 2013, Pp.249); this being said, employing social media to attain humanitarian causes needs to be taken in context because the number of views, likes or shares of a video doesn’t necessarily prove how effective the campaign is.

Online campaigns raise several issues to consider:

1. Connectivity

2. Mass Self-communication

3. Slacktivism

1. In relation to connectivity, internet connection it can be perceived as both enhancing as well as hindering political action. The first because it allows the instantaneous documentation of events happening, like in the case of citizen journalism for example. This is thanks to Social Media and Web 2.0 which highlighted the significance of connectivity.

Furthermore, connectivity is sometimes a restraint in attaining the campaign’s goal or achieving change. Why? Because of the obstructed internet connections. As discussed in the class slides, “Tweeting and FB messaging during the #You Stink protests was severely hampered by low connection speed.”

2. Manuel Castelles explains that mass self-communication is the unique quality afforded by internet based media is the production of self-generated messages on a mass scale; through it, users can selectively assemble the recipients of messages and potentially reach audiences on a global scale (class slides). Furthermore, “Campaigners can reach enormous ‘‘networked publics’’ without having to depend on powerful intermediaries such as media corporations and other traditional gatekeepers” (p.250), and this is indisputably considered a key strength of social media in shaping public opinion and solidarity on a global scale.

3. It is striking that political Facebook groups allow for the performance of “possible selves” by encouraging the formation of activist identities that somehow oblige users to contemplate more deeply on themselves as civic beings. Therefore, such groups act as a digital front stage to perform “hoped for (political) selves.” (Marichal, 2013, p.4) Transforming the commitment to causes into a matter of “Likes”, activism thus is overthrown by slacktivism: a form of civic promiscuity that simulates feelings of being useful and important while in fact producing little if any impact on the ground (Morzorov, 2011, p. 190) Slacktivism is a phenomenon which is more quantitative rather than qualitative. So the individual turns into a mere spectator as compared to being one that aims for active participation by taking action, because slacktivism somehow transforms interventions of activism into mere “harmless entertainment to be watched and consumed online” (Morozov, 2013, p.202), so we can say that the main goal becomes interest stimulation or online-engagement stimulation.

In conclusion, charities shouldn't be free to use social media for mobilizing public opinion and to call for military action because there are many risks involved. Whether considering the #Kony2012 case of use and abuse of the capacities of social media power or any other case at hand, there shouldn't be one person or one part having the capability of making such a decision. Who knows, maybe the Kony campaign had a subliminal goal to gather support for the US military intervention. This is the size of the risk. This is why such power shouldn't be freely used by charities which claim to only aim at making the world a better place.

Sources:

Fuchs (2014) ‘Social Media and Communication Power’’ in Social Media: A Critical Introduction, London, Sage, p. 75; Castells,Manuel(2009)Communication Power,Oxford,OxfordUniversity Press

Invisible Children. (2012, April 5). [Video File]. Retrieved fromhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_Ue6REkeTA

Marichal, J (2013) ‘Political Facebook Groups: Micro-Activism and the Digital FrontStage’, First Monday, Vol 18, Nr. 12, 2 December 2013,http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4653/3800

Mirca, M. (2013) HUMANITARIAN CAMPAIGNS IN SOCIAL MEDIA, Journalism Studies, 14:2, 249–266

Morozov, E. (2013) ) ‘Why Kierkegard Hates Slacktivism’ in Morzorov, E. The Net Delusion, Public Affairs, New York, p. 186–202