Much has been said about social media’s role in empowering marginalized populations, revolutionizing the ability to share and utilize information worldwide. In authoritarian governments, where non-regime approved opinions are often silenced, social media allows individuals to advocate and collaborate with their similarly minded peers within their own countries and around the world. It is this collaboration through social media that Alec Ross, former Department of State Senior Advisor for Innovation, has called the prime medium for the establishment of social change movements.
New forums for social interaction have provided worldwide access to an endless supply of information and news. As a result, power has shifted from large traditional information providers, such as governments and the mainstream media, to the citizens themselves. Oscar Morales’s One Million Voices Against FARC is one of social media’s first success stories, as Morales was able to mobilize millions of Colombians against terrorism using Facebook. The movement started by providing the public with the face of a victim, in this case the child of a FARC rape victim, whose story was circulating around the news at the same time. This timing caused the movement to go viral gaining thousands of supporters on Facebook within hours of its inception. Rather than let one image define his movement, Morales continued to provide information to his network. Through social media, he was able to organize the movement to reveal more victims to the public, to provide videos, photos, and information against the FARC. This movement spread across the globe, leading to demonstrations around the world with millions of people in attendance.
In addition to giving social media users the power of information, the new leaderless format of movements has helped to create anonymity for the founders of movements and protect their members. For example, We are All Khaled Said, an influential movement against the Egyptian Government in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian Revolt, was able to use anonymous social media accounts to provide a level of secrecy necessary to evade the dangers of government persecution and punishment. Additionally, Facebook and other media outlets allowed the movement to connect with other networks and movements, providing wide-ranging support, as well as legitimacy, to the group.
Though social media has ushered in a new era of global community, citizen journalism and information sharing, many academics would advise against buying into the belief that social media, and social media alone, has led to some of the most dramatic social upheavals of recent history. Rather, Jon B. Alterman argues in “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” that it was social media’s ability to empower individuals and convey information to the traditional media that made it a tool of revolutionaries, not a revolutionary force in and of itself.
Nonetheless, social media has facilitated the opening of closed societies and in this new era of global interconnectivity, it will continue to mobilize and connect individuals around the world, shifting traditional means of geopolitics to a more population-centric approach.