“The times, they are a-changing.” – Bob Dylan
And my, are they a-changing fast. Social media, once merely a virtual haunt for angst filled, horny teenagers, has burst forth from the strange chaos of the Internet to become a driver for civil transformation. In the last 10 years, it has spurred revolutions, movements and even altered national elections.
It is changing the way we interact, rally towards causes, and enact change in society. And while often, the power of this futuristic social tool is used for good, that's not always the case…
Known to the world as “The Green Revolution,” what happened in 2009 drastically altered the course of Iranian history. After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s decidedly suspicious victory in the national elections, protests sparked up across Iran disputing the results. Twitter became the base of operations for communication and coordination for supporters of opposition. They banded together to share reports and news of the violence and suppression taking place throughout the country. It was the first major world event broadcast live almost solely through social media.
And its impact was astounding.
Thousands upon thousands of people added a green filter to their profile pictures in support of the opposition protests. Twitter acted as a virtual “lightning rod” to draw on international scrutiny and awareness. It set the stage for social media’s role in international discourse.
In 2010, less than a year after the events in Iran, the Arab Spring sprung. And it became the new paradigm for social media’s influence on civil revolutions.
Networks formed online to rally protesters and secretly organize activist events throughout the Arab world. It eventually led to changes in leadership in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia.
Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Bahrain also experienced significant civil uprisings as a result of the online mobilization. It tangibly transformed the region…
And while social media can’t solely be attributed with the widespread and dramatic changes that followed the Arab Spring, it certainly played a significant role in stimulating it, and bringing it to fruition.
#Ferguson became a rallying call for social justice in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder after officer Darren Wilson shot down the 18-year-old African-American in the streets. It was a brutal, and wholly unjustified use of lethal force. And it resulted in historic riots, in turn causing Missouri to declare a “state of emergency.”
In the months that followed, the #Ferguson movement spread like wildfire across American social media. The hashtag was used, in a mere 16 days, well over 12 million times. Pictures of the riots were shared, videos of violence, and reports of madness streamed out of Ferguson via social media in unprecedented amounts of citizen coverage.
And that was only the beginning. #Ferguson evolved from there into a means of communicating social injustices from around the country, of sharing stories of police misconduct, and discussing the value of black lives in American culture. It started an extremely valuable conversation in this country, and exposed some of the outright criminal exploits of our brave men and women in blue.
This is a storm we haven’t weathered just yet. In the whirlwind that followed the recent #Metoo phenomena on Facebook and Twitter, America has seen a slew of high profile celebrities and politicians dragged down in disgrace. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Al Franken …
It’s a powerful crusade started by women, for women’s rights, and its momentum is singular. It seems like every day, some new allegations of sexual assault or misconduct arise, and another well known actor, comedian, or political figure falls from grace and into obscurity.
On Sunday the 15th of October, the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a prompt for women everywhere. She suggested that any woman who has ever been the victim of sexual assault write ‘me too’ as their status, so the world might perceive the scope of this problem, and how often women are sexually mistreated in our society.
Well, that scope was certainly realized. In a mere 24 hours after her tweet, the hashtag had been retweeted over half-a-million times. It seemed like every woman on Facebook and Twitter had an encounter that was (at least) less than polite, or (at worst) flagrantly abusive. It dragged the issue out of taboo darkness and into the blaring spotlight of social media.
The American Presidential Election (2016)
Up to this point this article has stuck with the chronology of these social media revolutions. But, naturally, the elephant in the room had to be saved for last.
While most of these instances resulted in intimate coverage and generally positive change, there is no more poignant example of how social media can be employed for villainy than the election of one Donald John Trump.
But first, a disclaimer: this is not a partisan issue or a political statement. This is not "picking a side." This is a case where America was taken advantage of, and it screwed with our nation’s future, and our place in the world.
Over the course of the Trump campaign, Russian hackers and conservative conspiracy propaganda outlets like Brietbart pummeled social media with deception with articles, reports and information designed to mislead and misinform the masses. And it worked. The falsehoods spread by these social media Sith effectively confused and deluded the American people.
It resulted in the election of our 55th president.
This is a topic America needs to meditate on in unity. Because, while social media is obviously a powerful tool for people to organize change and incite activism, it is also a means for megalomaniac world leaders and sociopathic individuals to sow discord, plant lies, and twist our information to achieve their own corrupt ends.
Social media is a tool that can be used, like a weapon, for either good or evil. That’s a truth and an issue we’re going to have to reconcile with, if our purity of information, and our global connectivity are to be maintained.