In “Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell argues that the whole idea of social media having power and influence over global affairs is ridiculous when compared to the way protests were carried out in the past. He believes that people can make changes through physical actions, but doesn’t think that it can be done through social media networks. The reasoning behind it is quite simple: how can you tell if the people that “join” groups, “like” things on Facebook, or “share” news on their profiles are really willing to do anything for the cause?
Despite him having a good point there, I don’t agree with him. I think he’s neglecting the fact that what happens online is not necessarily the protest itself, but it’s definitely a way to spread news around, see what other people think, and come up with ideas that can make a change. In Spanish there’s a saying that goes “la unión hace la fuerza.” It basically means that people are stronger as a group, rather than standing by themselves. Online social media gives us the opportunity to do this: unite under one cause and spread the word to as many people as possible.
More often than not, pictures can change the way we look at something. Before cameras existed, people had an idealistic view on war. They thought it was a very courageous, valiant thing to do. Dying for your country and your loved ones was completely worth the risk of going to war. They thought it was an adventure. As soon as war pictures got leaked, though, and people saw what the reality actually was, they began rejecting the mere idea of war. Now that social media is like a second nature to people, pictures are one of the most important ways to spread the word about something. Sorry for using a cliché, but a picture does speak more than a thousand words. Pictures make stories go from fiction to reality.
Social media has become a daily part of people’s lives. They see something; they say something about it on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media they prefer. Social media may not directly cause any change in society, but it creates awareness in an incredibly fast way and mobilizes people. For example, on February 14th, 2011 Bahrainis, inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings, were able to assemble a great amount of people in Manama (the capital) in order to demand social, economic and political rights from the government. Although their demands haven’t been met yet, it was through Facebook that the people were able to join and take it to the streets, where they manifested their inconformity with the government. A fact that stands out, is that not only Facebook users were the ones involved in this movement, but rather whole families, from the eldest to the youngest were representing their point of view in these manifestations. It’s also relevant to notice that those who didn’t have a Facebook account, made one right after they heard about it or took part in this “revolution” because they wanted to keep up with the events, and the mainstream media was not willing to share any information, since they are pro-government. Another important event was the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He was arrested several times due to his tweets, which criticized the government and provided proof of torture under custody, and has remained in prison for two years already.
I do agree, however, that social activism on social media sites might be too easy to create and therefore, also easy to ignore. How many times have you scrolled over headlines that say “Like this if ___”, or “Share this if ___.” Most of these pages are full of people saying they agree or disagree with an issue, but it doesn’t mean that people are doing anything at all to solve the problem. But I think that if you truly care about a cause, you won’t become a part of the multitude and just join in through an online profile, but rather act on it as well.
So ultimately, I think that social media is a great pathway for social activism, but it all comes down to how much you care about something in order for you to take action.