There’s no denying we are in an era where online happenings shape physical realities. As more nations globally gain access to technology, in particular, the Internet and social platforms; even in authoritarian regimes, we are witnessing the democratisation of information, through social dissemination.
In short, life changing information is increasingly being placed at our fingertips. Last year, the Pew Research Centre noted that an average of 30-million Facebook messages and 350,000 tweets were sent per minute. We have all seen one selfie or video clip provoke massive awareness effectively ‘Breaking the Internet’. Pew notes that of over 20 developing countries profiled, when compared to the developed world, their usage of the Internet is more advanced than countries such as the United States, despite having less online users.
Why is this so? Perhaps because it provides instant empowerment. We’re living in a fully connected world – a global marketplace that opens a new world of opportunities. Think of it this way, people who were previously unable to express who they were, align with like-minded people and ideas, discover necessary information or voice their opinions on policies, events and pertinent issues are now sharing space with those who already had these privileges. Anyone can now become a change agent, news reporter, photographer, content creator, activist, brand ambassador or celebrity. All it takes is the click of a button or the swipe of a finger to reach millions in seconds.
Here are 9 ways constructive social media use is transforming the world, especially developing countries:
- Raising awareness– From ‘marking yourself safe’ after a natural disaster or terrorist attack to campaigning against Boko Haram in Nigeria, (remember #BringBackOurGirls?), social media is an effective way to spread the word on human interest matters.
- Uniting people– We have seen this happen across the world recently. All it takes is the right hashtag, image, video or status message to galvanise and mobilise people to act. Here in Jamaica, a government official’s ‘articulate minority’ statement quickly became a hashtag that fired up previously unmotivated youth to vote, increasing political participation and reducing apathy.
- EducationAccess – With information being much more accessible, it is also changing the way we learn. Many who were unable to afford tuition or transportation can now find an Internet connection and teach themselves a host of skills. You can learn anything on YouTube or with the right Google search, and more people are grabbing their free ticket to learning, growth and opportunity.
- Trend spotting– Social media not only helps us to know what is ‘cool’ and topical, it also shows what’s trending in other areas. In instances where traditional media may be ill-informed, many look to social media for the truth on things like disease outbreaks and which political organisations are most supported. Our current health minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, created the #JaMoves campaign recently to highlight non-communicable diseases and motivate the nation to exercise for better health. However, we must acknowledge that fake news also exists on these platforms.
- Building community– Social media has helped Jamaica strengthen its relationship with the diaspora and build national pride (think #Jaminate and #TeamJamaica during the Olympics).
- Preserving and changing culture– Content is being created on, or specifically for social media to break cultural norms and create new ones. The issue of child brides in various developing countries is one such case, as are energy conservation and improper waste disposal in climate change campaigns. We know which species are endangered and why, we know when to protest cultural damage e.g. the #dapl #standwithstandingrock North Dakota pipeline issue in America. We know what not to eat (like parrot fish in Jamaica) and we’re talking about previously taboo subjects like mental health, being Muslim and being black.
- Levelling the playing field– #theAfricathemedianevershowsyou is one example of social media challenging stereotypes, there’s also #YesAllWomen and #EverydaySexism.
- A voice for the voiceless– The fact that people across the world are now aware of and speaking out against injustices like #BlackLivesMatter, #SandraBland and #LoveWins are testament to its influence. Currently in Jamaica, social media is the main catalyst for change in highlighting child abuse (e.g. Tambourine Army and Office of the Children’s Advocate series, Aria’s Story).
- Doing business– Company marketing strategies now prioritise social media in their budgets. Social media reviews are powerful for building trust and building brands. Today, you can start a business entirely by crowdfunding. Social media has also created more diverse employment opportunities – focusing on this new marketplace would be a great way to generate revenue for Jamaica and, by extension, improve our GDP.
What’s clear is that social media has forever affected the access and annals of power, influence and attention.