Social Media and Civic Action

What is social media? The term can mean different things to different people. This Global Voices post by Gaurav Mishra of Georgetown University might help clarify what social media is all about and how digital activism works. You might also check out this Global Voices posting by engineer Mohammad Azraq, which discusses social media activism in Lebanon. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof raised the issue of social media activism on his blog, setting off an interesting thread of comments.

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3 Responses to “Social Media and Civic Action”


  1. 1 Hannah, Smith 03/11/2009 at 9:45 pm

    I found last weeks primarily negative discussion on social media to be very interesting. As someboy who tweets now again, blogs when I get the chance, and is constantly on facebook, it was good to take some time out and reflect on just what a huge phenomenon social media is, and how I myself intereact with it.

    The points about Civic action through social media I found very interesting. I think it is almost inevitabel to suffer from an “armchair” mentallity, as spomebody phrased it in the lecture. Yes, I join groups and feel I’ve played my part, I even changed my Twitter location to Tehran after hearing that the mroe people that claimed to be in Tehran the easier it was for peopel in Iran to break through teh firewall and “tweet”. However, I couldnt’ help but feel much discussed was cynical. Is it not better to join these groups than sit oblivious, wrapeed up in my student life. The do provide a degree of information ( reliable or not) and if nothing else raise awareness of a cause. Is simply pressing “join group” better than donig nothing at all.?

    Similarly, whilst I can’t help but lament on the impact this revolution – if we can call it such – has had on the world of print media, and journalism as a whole, we must be able to extract positive benifits. If teh true aim of journalism is to inform people of events with reliable information, nothing does this better than the internet. The discussion provoked through these online sources, and social networking sites must also be benificial – again raising awareness and provoking thought at an international level.

    Thirdly, I feel that despite the disadvantages, we should celebrate the ease of communication. As an exchange student here at HKU, it’s been wonderful to not only keep in contact with, but share photos and video with friends at home – really keeping in touch. It will however take time before I celebrate the arrival of my mum onto facebook!!

    Finally, just to highlight another perspective, here is a link to a video I was shown in an Anthropology course back in Scotland. If you can bear with the 55 minutes, it’s well worth it.

  2. 2 Chow Chui Yin, Kuma 04/11/2009 at 7:47 pm

    The fact that many people leave irresponsible comments on the internet as anonymous or make no references or based on no evidence are detrimental to the quest for truth.
    Could it be more confusion and illusion that social media creates than objectivity and diversity?
    When you search Google news nowadays, they show you results from blogs maintained by who-know-which-blogger. The search for truth and facts can be complicated.
    As far as transparency is concerned, the best that the social media can do is to provide things/topics that the traditional media has yet to follow, and qualified journalists with seek the truth and verify with their own accountability and professionalism.
    My view is that social media often allows room for misinterpretation, misleading and hype. Not that traditional media never did any of such things. At the end of the day, the public knows whose reputation is to decrease, who is accountable and most importantly, comes out and admits such mistake–and make corrections. For social media, in its present state, people lie around and spread rumors everywhere, it’s very hard to identify them.
    Social media is a tool to mobilize people, raise awareness, allow room for different opinion; in other words it empowers those previously relatively powerless( in comparison to media tycoons and the states for examples).
    Social media as well allow people room to deliberate on social and political issues, therefore generate a voice to demand changes/improvements in institutions, be they governmental or privately owned. The deliberation process is not monitored, opinions can appear shallow and expert opinions are needed to complement in the process.
    The mobilization power of the social media appears to me benefits those who have more money, time and effort to indulge with the internet. Private companies hire people to write blogs about their favored policies, their products etc. People with the best internet connection, online networking have a better chance to seize all the attention in the hype of social media.
    Like the speaker in the lecture mentioned, the rule is companies should not spread rumors on the internet or hire people to ‘advertise’ for them cos other users are going to find out. Seems to me when people find out, they risk being a bit too late.
    Is it the best time for story tellers? In face of so many competitors, instead of spending your time investigating for an in-depth story, you get to adjust to internet users’ needs for great graphics, great videos, great charts, great interactiveness…Did people ever pay attention to less attractive but more meaningful social media content? I think social media cannot and is not escaping the fate that, in this fast speed world, resources are put in all directions but high-quality concrete reporting.
    It’s easy for social media to be a tool to get people’s yes or no vote, like setting up groups like ‘anti-Donald Tsang’ in HK via facebook and getting people to sign up. But it’s not easy to use social media to be a place where balanced and just deliberation in the society to take place.

  3. 3 Kevin Chu 06/12/2009 at 11:35 pm

    Traditional media, as Kuma mentioned in the previous post, are dominated by the media tycoons and the states. The media thus becomes a tool which serves the interest of the rich and the powerful. The renowned political activist, Noam Chomsky, has analyzed how states or leading political leaders used media to ‘manufacture’ consent of the people. Politicians utilize the media in setting the agenda, steering the discussion and arriving at their pre-determined conclusion. Moreover, corporations manipulate the media by using it to convey the value of consumerism and portray unrealistic image of the corporation.

    The emergence of social media not only facilitates information dissemination, but also possesses a distinctive feature which would probably encourage civic actions — that is empowerment. In the past, audiences are taking their back seat passively receiving the information portrayed by the traditional media. Ordinary public would not have chance of participation as the media is dominated by professionals and elites. However, social media empowers ordinary citizen to have a voice over their concern. Through Twitter, Facebook and other blogging activities, ordinary citizens could make use of these platforms to express their opinion and perspectives with a relatively free and unrestrained environment. They might get the first taste of social participation and move towards more active participation.

    Social media could also help develop civil societies. There has been news revealing that people, in some undemocratic or authoritarian regime with media censorship, use Twitter and other social media to report the situation in their home countries. Sometimes, it is used to uncover atrocities of the regime or other sufferings of the people. In an increasingly globalized world, this kind of information is useful for activist in initiating humanitarian or political campaigns. Even in countries where the government is democratically elected, social media can also ensure the minority would have a channel to advocate their concerns.

    I understand Hannah’s concern (reflected in previous post) in whether people would have a false sense of participation by just engaging in social media. Transformation from social media into more active participation is a crucial topic. Given the empowering feature of social media, the social media could be used as a platform or base for advocacy and mobilization. Therefore, social media could be used as a complement to traditional participation (like demonstration, joining political parties). Moreover, when the number of participants in social media reaches a critical mass, it could also grasp the power of agenda-setting and exert influence back on traditional media and social participation.


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