In what ways can online communities foster knowledge, learning, understanding and citizenship?
Could social media mean the end of Totalitarianism? On the surface that seems a big call to make, but after researching this topic I’m feeling a huge surge of pride for my media-using peers. Using Twitter and social networking sites to spread the ‘truth’ is the modern day version of the Resistance, and it seems a much more effective one. If Hitler had have tried to do what he did in 2011 would he have been as successful? Would his propaganda have been as effective?
The possibilities of social media making the world a better place to live in doesn’t end there. I also learnt through my research the power and possibilities of social media, and how amazingly caring, compassionate and helpful people can be towards one another in times of need.
In nations where the leaders are trying to gag their citizens, Twitter and other social networking sites continue to give a voice to the mute. When doing a search on Twitter I stumbled across this link, taking me to an article on Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to receive a Nobel laureate and who has been expelled from Iran since the uprising began in 2009. ”If you cannot eliminate injustice, you can at least tell everyone about it!” she says. Web 2.0 has made this simple and easily possible. As already seen, the media-savvy generation of Insiders love sharing and are comfortable with the notion of the public as experts. Posting photos, videos and personal anecdotes are already part of everyday life for this generation, so extending it to political views and sharing of political information seems a natural and useful extension. ”If any question remains about the viability and value of social networking as an indomitable tool of social protest, one needs only to look to Iran… Twitter was the instant front-runner. Posting images, opposition activists shared with the world photographic evidence of bloody protests and notified each other about scheduled protests in Tehran” (Popkin, 2009).
In looking at how Twitter and social media were used to protest the presidential elections in Iran in 2009 we see how powerful the sites are. So important was Twitter as a media tool in the uprising, the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to reschedule a network upgrade so that the protests on the presidential election could continue uninterrupted (Grossman, 2009). Twitter seems to be the most popular site for the organisation and sharing of information on political uprisings, as it was in Iran and Egypt.
“So what exactly makes Twitter the medium of the moment? It’s free, highly mobile, very personal and very quick. It’s also built to spread, and fast…. This makes Twitter practically ideal for a mass protest movement, both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. The same might be true of e-mail and Facebook, but those media aren’t public. They don’t broadcast, as Twitter does. On June 13, when protests started to escalate, and the Iranian government moved to suppress dissent both on- and off-line, the Twitterverse exploded with tweets from people who weren’t having it, both in English and in Farsi. While the front pages of Iranian newspapers were full of blank space where censors had whited-out news stories, Twitter was delivering information from street level, in real time….Twitter didn’t start the protests in Iran, nor did it make them possible. But there’s no question that it has emboldened the protesters, reinforced their conviction that they are not alone and engaged populations outside Iran in an emotional, immediate way that was never possible before” (Grossman, 2009).
Here we see that the immediacy and ability to broadcast to the public greatly contribute to the popularity of using Twitter to foster knowledge, learning, understanding and citizenship. When people thought that CNN weren’t producing enough coverage on the Iran uprising, the public used Twitter to do it for them, using the hashtag #cnnfail so that people could easily search the ground level coverage (Poniewozik, 2009). In other words, when mainstream media networks are not reporting as they should be, the public now step up to the mark and do it for them.
While Twitter seems to have been the most popular medium to spread the word, blogs, Facebook and YouTube were also used. One blog that was preaching the cause claims “Joining a Facebook group is not as good as turning up [to a protest] by any means, but its a way of showing support and keeping in touch with the cause, and other opportunities to act in real life” (Casey, 22 July). A Facebook group I found, Iran Solidarity, covered the uprising but also other issues in Iran, such as death by stoning. Information, an anecdote of a woman currently on death row and ways of showing support for her and protesting the practise can be found on the group page. A search of YouTube brings up videos of all kinds, one I found quite powerful is of a person running and carrying a camera while basijis, a kind of volunteer police squad, are shooting at civilians. It’s made powerful by the sound of the person breathing heavily, revealing the fear s/he must have been feeling, and seeing the cameraman’s bloody hand.
Another moving video I found through a blog, is one aimed at rallying support.
This website “Track Iran Election Protests Online : Social Media & Search,” is helpful to search social media sites. It lists social media websites, and what to type into the search engine, to help get to the more relevant information.
Closer to home, Twitter and Facebook were used by the public but also the authorities in dealing with the Queensland floods this summer (“Twitter, Facebook saviour,” 2011). Social media in relation to natural disasters serve several purposes. The first most immediate purpose is to spread information, similar to the political situations, what is actually happening at ground level, for example which parts were flooded in Queensland and where to avoid as well as where to go to be safe. “The hash tag, #qldfloods, used on Twitter was spontaneously accepted as a primary source for information by public, police and emergency services” (“Twitter, Facebook saviour,” 2011). People were spreading this information to tell loved ones they were safe, but also to warn and help other people. Axel Bruns from the University of Queensland of Technology said social media was a “full-fledged disaster response mechanism, and probably helped to save lives (“Twitter, Facebook saviour,” 2011).” The second purpose is to show support and offer help after the disaster has passed. Gwyneth Howell, a communications expert, says the use of social media for dealing with natural disasters has shown a “beautiful display of humanity” and “sense of real community” (“Facebook can help,” 2011). In a society that is often criticised for its individualism and for having lost the sense of looking out for your neighbour, it is heart warming to know that social media can be used to bring people together, to help people and to show support.
I have personally experienced this in several ways. When I first arrived in London and wasn’t enjoying it, I put a plea on Facebook and had several offers from friends to take me out and show me around. I also used it to contact long lost friends before my arrival. A friend of mine uses it as a kind of classifieds. Her status updates on Facebook have ranged from, ‘I’m playing in a concert tonight’, to ‘I need help setting up for my wedding’, to ‘I have 5kg of onions to get rid of, if you want them come get them.’ Quite touching was the response to her need for help, with so many friends offering a hand. Another friend is terminally ill and her Facebook wall is inundated with public messages of love and support. Being able to reach so many people so instantly and easily is creating a real sense of togetherness and community in a way that the younger generation has not known.
A happier example of social media being used to give a sense of involvement and citizenship is Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. They had a website giving people information and updates on the planning of the day and they broadcast the ceremony live on YouTube.
Twitter, YouTube, blogs and Facebook all allow the people to publicly tell their stories, to let truths be known, to pass on crucial information, to rally support to help a cause and to organise mass gatherings. The sites can also be used as an alternative to mainstream media. These sites bring people from all walks of life together, in the case of Iran, to fight a common cause and to invoke change, and in the case of the floods, to help with the clean up and bring the community together.