Social media’s power to enact change is much ballyhooed, as any cursory glance at news headlines will reveal. And it’s not surprising considering that a groundswell of opinion expressed through Twitter or Facebook can reverberate powerfully and catalyze seismic change. Case in point: the Arab Spring was fueled by the harnessing of social media by otherwise repressed citizens to communicate and incite. As of today, three governments have been toppled through the Arab Spring. That’s right, count ‘em: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya since December 18, 2010, and every single one with the incalculable help of social media. Ballyhoo away.
Indeed, that the impact of social media is so colossal that it can spur such immediate and decisive change has become a story unto itself. As the seminal media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously posited, “the medium is the message.” With the supposition that social media is not just a medium but also an extension of man, it’s clear that the societal reconfigurations that are necessary consequences of social media are more significant than the content of social media itself. It’s changed what we do, how we do it, and how we see what we do.
New media imparts a directional path in the relationship between media and media consumer that wasn’t there as strongly before– now, it’s clearly a two-way street. Most of us no longer just react to news; we rewrite it. When Susan G. Komen for the Cure recently announced that they were going to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, the backlash was born instantly on social media networks. A Twitter spokesperson announced that there were more than 1.3 million tweets referencing Planned Parenthood. Countless anti-Susan G. Komen Facebook groups popped up on Facebook. Planned Parenthood found themselves with 10,000 new Facebook friend requests and received more than 400,000 dollars in donations from 6,000 donors in less than 24 hours. The result? Komen reversed their decision and their senior vice president resigned.
So what does all of this mean for you? It means your voice may have the power to resonate more than the voices of any generation before. Civic-minded individuals now have an effective tool as ever to enact the changes they want to see. This is not to say that social media is the be-all and end-all shovel to dig toward utopia – blood, sweat and tears are mostly irreplaceable. But as a catalyst, as a bullhorn, as oxygen for fire – social media is very effective, and you can opt in to stand for the issues you care about.