There is much economic interest behind the social media world, which can often be the source of public debate. Social media is not a paradise of free sharing, and on this, we can agree. However, the platforms can also create change globally, giving people a voice beyond advertising and marketing.
But let’s go into more detail.
Social media can give a voice to people who would not normally have one in traditional media.
Examples include the video on Tik Tok during the Black Lives Matter protest, which has pivoted information in the public arena that would not normally have come out. Without underestimating the possibility of fake news, it’s essential to recognise the importance of being informed (and educated) through more channels. This new way to read reality presupposes a greater understanding of media, becoming even more difficult to “decrypt”.
Social media allows you to feel less lonely even though you are part of a marginalised group.
Over the past years, diversity has become a more critical topic. Whether we are talking about body type, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, neurodiversity, the kick-off has emanated from social media. We are now finally seeing the first slow steps in the right direction in mainstream media as these topics become more normalised. There is no denying the essential role that Instagram, Tik Tok, and other social channels play in giving voice and recognition to a group that has so far felt invisible in mainstream media.
Social media is shaking up healthcare and public health.
The health industry is already using social media to change how it works, helping groups of people, such as patients suffering from the same condition, stay in touch. However, it has a dark side, too: while social media does help official agencies and experts share essential information fast – such as during a disease outbreak – it has a downside. Social media is a two-way street and allows non-experts to share information just as rapidly as health agencies, if not more so.
Social media is helping us tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, from human rights violations to climate change.
The Arab Spring is perhaps one of the best-known examples of how social media can change the world. The Arab Spring, sometimes dubbed the Facebook revolution or Twitter revolution, shook regimes across the Arab world, and it massively benefited from online activism. It started simply, with an argument between a police officer and a Tunisian street vendor over a fruit and vegetable cart. His self-immolation struck a nerve in Tunisia, provoking weeks of demonstrations across two countries and ultimately unseating their president of 23 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. And it didn’t stop there. Largely thanks to social media, massive demonstrations were mobilised, within hours, across countries like Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Yemen and Syria.
But it’s about more than just bringing activists together: it’s also about holding human rights violators to account. Another example is climate change: in this case, social media strongly contributes to bringing together disparate, but like-minded people. Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference started her on her path toward becoming a world-renowned activist and a powerful influencer on climate change. As of May 2019, about 1.5M students in 125 countries have participated in the school strikes that she started – an unthinkable mobilisation without social media.
Social media helps people with mental health issues connect with the outside world.
A face to face conversation is vital for many people – we are all aware of this, especially during the pandemic – but we must recognise that this may still not be a viable option for some In this context, Social media can be a window into the world, representing real hope for people denied access to the outside world.