It’s no overstatement to say that social media is impacting the way our world works in fascinating ways. For all intents and purposes, the onset of web 2.0 has led to a kind of international cultural revolution. Preceded by and integrated into western globalization, social media has created a bridge between all cultures, and allowed people to communicate in ways previously unimaginable.
The fundamental principle of social media is the sharing of information. Anything, no matter how small or how large, can now be condensed into a picture, or a video, or a tweet, and spread like wildfire, having an impact on the lives of thousands.
It’s easy to dismiss social media as loads of obnoxious people giving you live updates of their breakfast, but whilst YouTube may have far too many thousands of hours of terrible vlog footage, there are some that are using the power of social media in amazing new ways.
Well, firstly and maybe most obviously, there’s news media.
It seems strange to think today that when Lincoln was assassinated, it took twelve days for Reuters to break that news to Europe. By comparison, it took nine minutes for The Boston Globe’s initial tweet about the bombing earlier this year to spread to news organisations worldwide.
According to the Washing D.C. based Pew Research Center, 30% of all Americans receive their news through Facebook, and whilst it doesn’t take a cultural theorist to tell you that news has changed since the onset of the social media revolution, it’s not simply the speed and way we consume news that has changed.
Social media has allowed journalists access to thousands of opinions on any given topic. It’s now easy, not only to find sources for stories, but ideas for news as well, which has changed the profession of journalism from the handing down news to the masses to something altogether more collaborative.
Most of the stories we hear from the world of social media are to do with disclosures of guilt: somebody does something illegal, tells the world about it, and then are shocked when there are consequences.
However, more than simply being a venus fly trap for irrationally honest socialites, social media can allow people to come together to fight crime.
Social media was employed as part of the successful police manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that took place after the Boston bombings. However, this was not a sole social media strategy, but rather just shows how social media is now an accepted addition to television and radio media.
Also, whilst this is quite a dramatic example of the way social media can be used to find individual criminals, the Brazilian authorities are using it in a more widespread way. Using social media to study crime on a large scale is becoming a reality there, in one of the most crime ridden countries in the world.
At the beginning of the last decade, in the municipality of Diadema outside of Sao Paolo, a crime mapping program called MapInfo was implemented. This program used citizens reporting crime in their area to create a live map of criminal activity, allowing the police to react dynamically to illegal. Whilst this is a headline statistic, it’s worth noting that between 2001 and 2009, reported crimes dropped by 81.5%.
In extreme situations, people push technology to meet their needs. The response to Typhoon Haiyan was particularly interesting. It is the strongest typhoon in modern history, and with the effects being varied and ruralized, relief efforts have been fraught with difficulty. A global network of volunteers has entered the fray in an attempt to. The organisation, MicroMappers, helped create a real time map of where people were asking for help, and where destruction was greatest.
In addition to helping those on the ground identify those who are in most need, social media has led to some innovative fundraising and spreading of messages. Dr Evangeline Cua, a 38-year-old surgeon in the midst of the disaster, posted a plea onto social media, which led to £30,000 worth of donations in 24 hours.
This is not the only way that social media is being used inventively for good causes. Off the Northwestern coast of lies what could be the world’s biggest petroleum and natural gas fields. It is also “the last great marine wilderness of earth” according to Dave Johnston, a marine biologist at Duke University.
The area of Australia is popular with snubfin and humpback dolphins, but the traditional environmental analysis process is overwhelmed. Citizen scientists sharing their experiences through Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube updates will help create an up-to-date snapshot of the wildlife in the area, democratizing the data and making the fight back against the oil companies more tangible.
In the same vein, political activism allows people to unite in ideological struggles (real or invented). The #Kony2012 campaign was a great example of the benefits, and downfalls, or social media as a tool for bringing people together under one political objective.
An organisation called Invisible Children released a video on March 5, 2012. In October of the same year, the video went viral, gaining 100 million views on YouTube. The idea behind the video was to make Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord in charge of the Lord’s Resistance Army, famous, thereby pushing American foreign policy to up their hunt for a man responsible for vicious crimes against humanity.
However, the campaign began to implode when director Jason Russel’s psychological instability became the story. The original aim was also a failure: whilst it impassioned people, it was ultimately an unattainable aim. So whilst every day new innovations are discovered, we are still in teething stages of this digital revolution…and who knows what’s next?