Social media in today’s technologically advanced society has the power to kindle numerous necessary conversations. It has been used both as an agent as well as a tool by activists over the years.
It has given voice to people living in remote areas as well. Today everybody has a Facebook or an Instagram account. Facebook has about 1.69 billion users and the global number for WhatsApp is 2 billion. These numbers reflect the level of penetration social media has in our society. It bridges the gap between the rich and the poor, it is beyond any class or caste divide and provides an equal platform to all in its truest essence.
Online petitions, trending hashtags on twitter and Instagram not only spread awareness but give voice to dissenting opinions. These platforms have successfully triggered relevant discourse across the globe and resulted in bringing tangible change in society.
Let’s delve more into how social media works both as an agent and a tool for social change.
Social media movements are essentially an organized effort to push for a certain cause. Since there’s deeper penetration of these platforms in our society its easier to mobilize and aware people about issues that need to be bought in light. Communication is a prerequisite for any rebellion or protests and social media ensures that this flow of information is never lost. The traditional media sometimes fails to voice diversifying opinions but these social media platforms gives us all a space to take a stand.
Social movements have been an integral part of our society. Time and again these movements have mobilized people, protested against discriminatory behavior and fought for a just society, but when these social movements use social media as their ammunition then the impact is much more significant. Social media ensures easy mobilization of people, quicker dissemination of information and most importantly give the movement a global platform with simply a click.
This wasn’t easy in earlier times when there was no social media. News and information dissemination were either through traditional media channels, which not everyone could afford, or through informal channels like oral recitation. Nothing could fetch global attention. However, the social media age has turned this impossible task into a possible one. Today you can easily make a regional issue reach a global platform.
The very first social media website was called ‘six degrees’ which launched in 1997. It allowed its users to create a profile and befriend other users, so pretty much what Facebook does. From the emergence of this website the internet soon became a hub of instant messaging. As the millennium changed, almost 100 million people had access to the internet, but this still wasn’t the biggest boom for social media. In 2004 the launch of Facebook revolutionized the social media. It instantly became a hit among teenagers as well as young adults and even till now Facebook has a boasting number of users in billions.
Another major boom for social media was the launch of Twitter in 2006. It has about 500 million users and has become increasingly popular for political debates and discussions. Today a tweet is read before a newspaper headline. There are numerous numbers of social media platforms available which cater to their specific audiences. You can choose to be on social media according to your very specific needs and expectations, for example you like to share photos Facebook and Instagram are your apps and if you like to be precise and just want to put out a thought twitter can be a good friend. Over the years social media has been changing and has been altering themselves according to the need of the people that is why people like to interact with these platforms and use it to propagate their views and ideologies.
Some movements were born on social media and have played a major role in voicing people’s concerns. It has also acted as a tool which has been used effectively to bring about change. These movements have gained popularity and have led to major reforms in the society because of the exposure they got due their social media presence. Let’s discuss some of these movements which went viral and shook the entire social system.
On the night of 14 and 15 April 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State of Nigeria. This abduction was done by an Islamic State in West Africa known as Boko Haram. The campaign #BringBackOurGirls on social media worried the entire world about the plight of those school girls. There was outrage in almost every global citizen.
The very first hashtag was used on April 23, in Nigeria. In less than three weeks, the hashtag had been used more than a million times worldwide, with celebrities like Cara Delevingne and Michelle Obama adding their selfies to mounting social media movement. This hashtag bought global attention to the tragedy of the Boko Haram conflict, a conflict that otherwise would have never gained a global audience.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a wonderful testament to the power of social media. In August, 2014 a group of ALS organizations in the USA introduced the ice bucket challenge which involved dumping of a bucket of ice water over a person’s head to promote awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as motor neuron disease and in the US as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It drew attention of hundreds of thousands of people, including celebrities like President Obama, LeBron James, Lady Gaga and Bill Gates. Within the first 15 days of the campaign, the ALS association had received $15 million in donations from 307600 new and first-time donors. In total the association raised more than $115 million research towards Lou Gehrig’s Disease and this has been possible largely due to social media.
The 2017 Women’s March was one of the most powerful moments of women uniting together across the globe. Millions of women walked together on January 21 to protest against the persisting inequalities.
It was based in The US but thanks to the trending #WomensMarch, it became a worldwide movement. It bought together women from all over the world and turned it into a magnificent movement of resistance.
4. #MeToo movement
Tarana Burke founded the MeToo movement in 2006 and started using the phrase “MeToo” to raise awareness about sexual abuse and assault. It developed into a rather spectacular movement over a decade later when in 2017 its hashtag went viral. Millions of men and women came out to talk about how they faced sexual abuses. It took just one Alyssa Milano to muster the courage to talk about it on social media which inspired millions of others.
This movement went viral globally and affected almost every fraternity. The aftermath of this movement led to many states banning nondisclosure agreements that cover sexual harassment which stopped the victims to talk about their abuse even to their family members. State policies for sexual harassment were reviewed, some survivors got financial restitution and a wave of justice went through the entire society. This movement has undoubtedly acted as a deterrent for the abusers.
5. #CAA and #NRC
The government of India passed a citizenship amendment bill which promised citizenship rights to the minorities of the country. A section of the society believed that this bill along with the enforcement of National Register of Citizens will exclude Muslims from gaining citizenship rights since the minorities listed in the bill does not include Muslims. It also faced criticism from the north-eastern states of India because they believed that the influx of migrants might threaten their linguistic and cultural identity.
There were heated debates around this topic and people from both ends of the spectrum expressed their views on social media. The bill faced criticism from every corner of the country. People have been creating art pieces to demonstrate their dissent. Without being physically present in a protest people have been a part of protests by talking about it on social media. It has educated a lot of people about the deeper implications of the bill. #CAA and #NRC were trending on every social media platform and it was practically impossible for people to be unaware about what was happening. It was used as a tool by many activists to express their dissent.
It was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization who fights against racial discrimination and aims to eradicate white supremacy. George Floyd was murdered by a police officer on May 25, 2020. The video of the police officer choking him by keeping his knee over his neck went viral and Instagram and Facebook started brimming with #BlackLivesMatter.
People came in solidarity from all across the world. For an entire day Instagram was filled with jet black posts. Not only did it provide solidarity to the movement it also forced the government to take action against those police officers who were responsible for George Floyd’s death and put them behind the bars.
People used social media platforms to call out celebrities and influencers for their selective outrage. It also sparked a conversation about the position of Dalits or the out castes in India. So, the impact it had on our society was multi faced. Even during a lock down when the world is stricken by a deadly virus, social media enabled people to ensure that injustice shall not prevail.
These are just some examples of various social media movements which have been shaping our society. The dynamic nature of social media is the reason why this medium of information can be used to bring about massive changes in our society and it has proven its efficiency time and again to us. Social media can truly be a blessing in disguise for a lot of people.