By Lindsay Wachs
In a world where Kim Kardasian has 12 million followers on Twitter and a video of a sneezing baby panda has 129 million views, the popularity of such trivial subjects asks us to consider the higher purpose of social media. Can the average Internet user do something meaningful on the web rather than cater to our most basic entertainment needs? 2011 may mark when social media turned that corner. The average user employed social media to shed light on what sites like Twitter and Facebook can accomplish. These sites were used as a call to action and to highlight unrest in Egypt. For 30 years, Hosni Mubarak was president/dictator of Egypt. As speculation about his health began to rise, there was talk about his successor likely selected by Mubarak. The Egyptian people did not stand for this. On January 25, 2011 Egyptians took to the streets to protest him, his regime, and the weakening constitution. Within a month, Mubarak resigned, but the protestors have continued to speak their minds, sparking protests in many other Arab countries which are now collectively being called the Arab Spring. These sites have become the primary means in which protestors spread the word and organize themselves for various marches. The real beauty of it is that a small few were able to organize thousands by using these tools for outreatch. Once on the streets, protestors were able to garner media attention using YouTube. Personal cameras, like the kind issued on most standard mobile phones, became the primary means through which social movement received its coverage. Hundreds of videos of various rallies and gatherings were captured and uploaded to YouTube, where their messages were further relayed to other Egyptians and citizens all over the world. Among the videos of people in the streets, many were exposing police violence against protestors. At the height of the movement, the word “Egypt” was in 1 of every 200 tweets worldwide[i], proving that social media can be used in new and more productive ways that go beyond watching a cat play the piano.
The U.S. government itself has come to understand the effect these sites can have. Instead of sending soldiers to countries where it could end up being a bureaucratic nightmare, they have instead begun providing protestors with encryption software, allowing them to post their images on the web without fear of implication and subsequent retribution that the images will be traced back to them where they could then be punished.[ii] Showing support for a cause no longer means that one has to be physically present at a rally or protest. Instead, millions of views online combined with the organizational effort of a few can create major change simply by spreading their messages to the millions of everyday social media sites users.
Social media sites have not only changed the way we interact with each other, but also the way we protest and state our opinions about the world we live in. Social media sites are now tools being used for a greater purpose. They have become new and important ways of showing support and starting social movements, like the one in Egypt that then fueled the Arab Spring. If these sites continue to be used in this meaningful way, soon even images of protests and revolts could have more hits than a baby panda sneezing.
[i]“Egypt Protests Fueled by Social Networking.” 27 January 2012. Online video clip. cbsnews.com Accessed on 5 February 2012. < http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7291353n&tag=mncol;lst;5>
[ii]“Inside Syria.” 31 October 2011. Online video clip. nbc.com Accessed on 5 February 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/45112932#45112932>