Guest Column: Social Media and Democracy — Mutually Exclusive?


How different would the world be if the 1968 French students, the Anti-Apartheid protestors or the first Ku Klux Klan had Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook? The debate on the influence on social media in Democracies has had significant attention. In our contemporary world, we see the upsurge of social media campaigns from Black Lives Matter to Obama's presidential campaign that search to extend and facilitate public participation and civic engagement. On the other hand, we also see terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or China's censorship affect wider audiences by promoting hate speeches to isolating large populations, respectively. In this large debate on the influence of social media and the sustainability of democracies, there is no doubt that it has become an integrated part of Generation Y's means of gaining credibility and influence. Social Media has emerged as a means to give people from across the world an opportunity to connect beyond national borders and causes. It has extended the reach and potential for sharing ideas, with relatively low costs. Information and ideas can emerge from the most isolated of places, challenging the tradition 'top-down' approach in the creation of information. On the other hand, social media can also be abused in attempting to steer public opinion, feed terrorist organizations, infringe on personal privacy or foster leaderless movements. A couple years back, the Arab Spring illustrated the various elements of this complexity. As the social media platforms brought protesters to organize, demonstrate and put pressure on the failing government, the responsibility to go through in bringing a governmental change remained in the hands of the people. Some might argue that has not been as successful. Recently, the Black Lives Matter campaign spurred nation-wide attention. Though initiative are being cultivated in a decentralized manner across public and private settings, one could assess the movement as much more grassroots than the civil rights movement associated figures such as Martin Luther King or Malcom X. Social media permits one to spread a message and provoke reaction at no cost, through videos, pictures, tweets, and hashtags. This "access liberty" combines a drastic reduction in the cost of creating and communicating information through the wide-spread us of digital technologies. Organizations such Videre, "that equips oppressed communities in hard-to-access areas with cameras, technology and training to safely and effectively expose violence, human rights violations and other systemic abuses" are emphasizing the fundamental benefits of greater access to technology and social media in combatting injustices. The question of control in social media is among its most debated points. In the past month, the Angolan president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos called upon a bill to restrict "derogatory and morally offensive content" from the Internet. This comes at a time when social media represents one of the only mediums for expression of political anger in the country. Whether its use is well intended or not, the power of social power is undeniable. One is able to communicate rapidly with large numbers of people; influence policy-making and our daily lives. Globally, nationally and across college campuses, social media is serving as a key tool in sparking civic engagement. Social media not only facilitates the spread of democracy, but represents an opportunity for individuals to move beyond the talk and prove that action speaks louder than words.

Antoine Lucic, environmental policy student in the Department of Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College.


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