Social media has seen the peak of citizenship participation. It has challenged barriers to the full exercise of freedom of speech. What on one end is a platform for self-expression is a catalyst for community action on the other.
Social media has become a convenient internet street to where citizens actively take their issues and concerns without need for physical presence. With its reach across demographics and its access global, it quickly provides that virtual intersection at which ever-expanding and ever-increasing internet streets converge. And over a short period of time, social media influences what unfolds on the ground.
Social media has become an effective tool in mobilizing people, calling for wider public support, and elevating a lobby for certain concerns on a global level. It adds that necessary push or pressure for resolution to issues and brings to the fore a new era of civic activism.
With social media managing to penetrate every nook and cranny of a community – regardless of stringent censorship protocols – and with technology having a way around access restrictions, there are more and more people being connected to a global community.
There is a growing support system that fuels more the need to speak up and do something about relevant social and political issues. Governments are brought to the planning table to review culture-entrenched regulations that draw the thin line between concern and gender rights violation. Social media is starting to influence and dictate world affairs.
No doubt, social media has become a catalytic tool that makes or breaks communities. This phenomenon significantly impacts on organizations that successes and survival rates can now depend on social media utilization. Governance and public affairs take on a different level of discourse in social media with it attracting a broader participation base. Advocacies and fundraising campaigns are better communicated via social media where the pass-on rate is fast and public visibility high. And, responses to calls for action in social media form an avalanche as it is pervasive and cuts across cultures, ideologies and social status.
In the book WikiLeaks, reputable international non-government organizations are said to engage the services of journalists in what it calls “mediation”. The end is to communicate what their organizations are doing not only for fundraising activities but also to advance some political agenda. Use of social media was considered vital in this respect; they are able to reach out to more and thus, help in shaping public responses to critical issues and crises, and influence decision-makers. But this arrangement involves heavy investment of both time and resources, not to mention the risks.
But how fast can messages posted in social media mobilize social action?
How fast did the Arab Spring muster the needed number from when calls for reforms were circulated online? Could it have been projected that New Yorkers would respond to the Occupy Wall Street campaign in such a way hours or days from when the call became popular on the internet? Would the same response time be achieved if the similar conditions were simulated as when typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Philippines where one post on Facebook encouraging people to offer free rides to homeless typhoon victims arriving at different ports in Metro Manila led to the Local Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board giving free bus rides from Tacloban to Manila to over a thousand?
These are valid questions that may require serious research in order to further optimize the practical value of social media. These are questions that present an opportunity for a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to finding a simple answer to what could obviously be a complex equation.