World Peace through Social Media?

The theme for this week’s set of readings sets us up with an interesting contrast: what is the difference between “old” and “new” social media? Do we use social media differently now because of its immediacy and availability? And if we do, does this mean we are using it for social “good”, like we’d always thought we could?

In Standage’s historical analysis of the implementation and public reaction to the first transatlantic telegraph, he emphasizes the feeling of hope the new communication method created among the public and the excitement that came with connecting the “new” and “old” world. This feeling was referred to as the first step on the quick route to breaking social barriers and encouraging peaceful relationships. In chapter 1, he recalls a public sentiment that “the electric telegraph would make muskets into candlesticks”. There was a sense of optimism that humanity would be united through a wire laid across the sea, which was accepted even after the telegraph system was proven to be flawed and relatively useless, and mostly only used by a small sect of the public.

A similar sentiment connected the rise of the internet and a potential social revolution. The idea that people will use “new” social media for public debate, and organize themselves for a cause is showcased in this short advertisement: Three Little Pigs story that uncovers a “truth” and inspires social change. While we know that a news story and the public debate that ensues does not translate to anything like the outcomes in the video, it does display some of the hope that ordinary people shape what the “real story is” and have the power to potentially create reform.

In the Glaisyer article, he points out that the emerging communications technology has the possibility to empower and open up communication in countries where political expression is likely constrained. He suggests that what makes it different from old social media is its availability to not only bureaucrats and civil servants, but ordinary people. Aside from the physical structures of the new media, perhaps this is the factor that stands out as the biggest transition point between old and new social media. The way that we see the world has also been transformed, because the “whole world” connection that was created through the telegraph was only a connection across the Atlantic Ocean. It is interesting to think about who the public thought of as possible change-makers in history, and what countries were included in this strive to “world peace”. Now, the increased visibility has reached many more places in the world, and our idea of who can be an activist or a drive for social change has been transformed entirely. In this way, new media is empowering.

My question for the class is: Have you ever engaged in public debate on social media? If so, did you ever take action beyond what you read or wrote? If not, what kind of news story would inspire you to do so? Can you think of an example (maybe on our campus) where a public debate came from social media, and any changes were made as a result?


About Hannah

Read my name backwards I dare you
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5 Responses to World Peace through Social Media?

  1. ksoisson says:

    I’ve engaged somewhat in public debate/civically on social media; however, I’m definitely guilty of slacktivism. I’ve never really done much more civically with social media than post or retweet things, which probably has a minimal effect, other than possibly raising awareness. In these cases, it was usually something that I felt strongly about. That’s what makes social media particularly interesting. You can “get involved” in different ways or at least feel like you are a part of something, when in reality, a large majority of what I and many others did was most likely along the lines of slacktivism.

  2. mjslovin says:

    Like Kevin, I’ve fallen into this slacktivism trap. Social media makes it fairly easy for users to simply pass along the remarks of others, which doesn’t have the same effect. To me, the news stories that make me the most willing to engage on social media are ones that incorporate the use of specific search terms to use. For example, if I see a sporting event or news story that is using a single hashtag on Twitter, I will be more likely to follow along with what everyone is saying and continue the conversation myself. To me, that makes Twitter the most effective search engine we have today — people are conversing in real time about real events. To use another example, during the Sandy Hook tragedy, I watched it unfold on real time through Twitter searches while looking for updates.

  3. Lizzy says:

    I haven’t ever engaged in active debate over twitter. Usually, I just retweet something and then add a commentary with it. So, for example, the other day John McCain tweeted something I believed to be racist. His tweet read : “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? ‘Iran launches monkey into space’“. Since twitter has a character limit, after I had retweeted the tweet I only had room for a three letter commentary so I ended up only saying “Wow”, which I hoped was enough to convey my disbelief and disgust for that tweet. This then led to one of my friends tweeting me asking if that tweet was real, and then we discussed how we couldn’t believe a US Senator would tweet something like that. This incident is of course not an example of being spurred into action by social media (because there was nothing I could really DO about it) but it does show how social media is a useful forum for inspiring commentary on a subject. I do agree though that new social media is aiding slacktivism, and I myself have been guilty of it, but it really does take something quite significant (and personally relevant) to make someone actually take action for a cause.

  4. sheypat says:

    I actually never have engaged in public debate through social media websites, and I think that that itself is an important thing to examine when talking about social media politics: why are certain people not getting involved in them online? I don’t get involved in political discussions online because I actually think that when I am having political discussions with people who I am close with, and whose views differ from my own, puts a strain on my opinion of them. It is far more effective for me to discuss politics with people that I don’t know personally so that I am listening to an opinion itself, without attaching a personality to the person telling it to me. I think that this is a major concern for social media specialists who want people to be using social media to discuss politics. Certain people may not want to offend others. Others may just be too shy or nervous to voice their opinions online for all the public to see.

    I think the only issue that would cause me to voice my opinion on a public forum is for something where I could offer a valuable opinion due to experiences that I have that other people may not have. For example, if people were discussing an issue about students in college and none of these people were in fact students, I think that I would feel motivated to voice my own opinion.

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