People seem so determined to quantify the effects of social media. What is it doing? What difference is it making? Who’s benefiting? How can it help ME?
Malcolm Gladwell published a piece in the New Yorker asking if Egypt needed Twitter to overthrow Mubarack. He claims Twitter didn’t cause the revolution in Egypt, but that it was merely a tool. We didn’t innovate the revolution. The underlying causes weren’t limited to technology, and the people didn’t rise against tyranny so they could try and get to 10,000 followers. Gladwell goes out of his way to humanize us, and take the credit away from Twitter and Facebook.
The punishment from the blogosphere was swift and merciless. Brian Solis actually titled his response “Malcolm Gladwell, Your Slip is Showing.” You couldn’t open a social media blog without finding a post bashing Gladwell. Everyone claimed Egypt needed Twitter. That revolutionaries wouldn’t have been able to unite without Facebook. That Gladwell had lost it. Very cute graphs and charts showing how many tweets were made and profiles updated were pushing the raw, unbridled power of social media.
The uprising in Tunisia was spawned by a street vendor who burned himself alive to protest the way authorities were treating him. That is the power of the individual. That is not technology. Protestors took to the streets and were violently beaten. As an Iranian-American I can tell you these are not uncommon events in the Middle East. As few as five years ago, this could have been the end of this story. Now, these incidents are recorded. Video of the protests hit Twitter and within days a small protest in one town became a national cause. TV stations were broadcasting the videos they pulled off social media. There are no more veils of secrecy. The world sees everything. With all its benefits, social media also creates a much higher level of danger for the protestors. If they had not been victorious, the government would know exactly who they were. They would have paid with their lives.
Even in the recent tragedy in Japan, I’ve found many articles about how social media affected the response and news dissemination as I have about what actually happened there. But I haven’t seen much about how social media is helping to reconnect victims, and groups are only starting to use social media for Japanese emergency relief donations.
Which brings me back to my original point. Everyone is trying to jump on the social media bandwagon. Everyone wants a piece of the action. Everyone seems to have an agenda. Everyone wants to give it credit for everything…or to diminish it. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. Did Egypt need Twitter? Need is a funny word. They didn’t NEED twitter. Would Mubarak have resigned without the power of social media? Today? Probably not. Would he have been forced out eventually? Maybe.
The power of social media lies with us though. It makes all our thoughts, information, and events in our lives immediately accessible to everyone. Like any form of power, it can be abused and used to our detriment. If you’re new to social media, or just looking to get more out of it, here are some tips.
- Be yourself – People often say you can be whoever you want on the internet. If the person you decide to be isn’t you, you’re not helping anyone. Winston Churchill used to say a lie got half way around the world before the truth put its pants on. That is no longer the case. The truth is right behind you, and it will catch up.
- Be open – Not just with yourself, but to the ideas of others. There’s plenty of room for debate, but just as social media strives for the truth, it doesn’t respond well to those it things are hiding it. People will disagree with you. Embrace them. Teach them. You’ll get your message across by appealing to the highest common denominator. Try to quiet someone’s dissenting opinion, and you will be punished for it.
- Be careful – The internet is forever. Think about what you say. You can’t take it back.
- Be consistent – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t impact anyone in social media in that amount of time. Keep plugging away. People will pay attention if you have a good message. They will care. Probably not right away.
Could you imagine if the real world were like that? With today’s instant video-capture, global feedback, and the fact that social media gives EVERYONE a voice, that day could be coming.