- What potentialities and limitations does online media offer activists attempting to drive social change?
- For study purpose of unit ALC203 only.
Social change refers to any noticeable change in behavior patterns, cultural norms, and values over a period. On an effort to drive this, activists have adopted online communication. This is different from the one-way communication of radio, television, and newspapers. This is because online users can respond to messages in real time and not just to receive them. It thus provides the opportunity for rapid responses especially when there’s a national debate on controversial events anywhere in the world (Flew, 2007). Thus masses become more aware of global events and disasters. Awareness often leads to solutions.
Activists have therefore opted for increased use of online media because of its potentialities. Key among them include:
Connectivity between disconnected groups. Through social media platforms, people living in rural areas where few news events take place connect with those in urban areas. Thus, posts by activists in the various social platforms get to reach to persons in reserves as well as those in urban areas. By expressing their opinions, there is, therefore, balanced contribution in a discussion.
Flexibility. Online media is accessible on a 24/7 basis anywhere there is an internet connection. All that it requires is access to the web at any time of day or night. For instance, if it’s a move towards advocating against FGM, whenever there are reports of such activities being undertaken in an area, activists do not need to wait for an opportune time to mobilize people against such. They can do it immediately in real time. The use of short, catchy statements like hashtags quickly gains mass contribution.
It has the potential of a leveling aspect. Some people advocate for changes but do not have the courage to speak publicly. For such, online media gives them the chance to air their views without fear. Thus, it enables them to put across their views just like their other more courageous counterparts.
Documenting. Whenever anything is posted online, it is made available and stored. Thus, it is retrievable at any time. For example, if the society is advocating for girl child empowerment, anything about that if made available online can be revisited even after a long passage of time. In this way, the discussion is continuous compared to if the communication was verbal.
Reflection before participation. Participants in online discussions are not pressured to engage in conversations until when they feel ready to do so. This provides one with the time to think about what they want to pass across because they have to write it down. This aspect of reflection ensures that most online discussions maintain the logical sequence.
Compared to traditional methods, online groups are cheaper to train, recruit and organize (Papic & Noonan 2011, P.3). The platforms activists use are in use by most people, so there is no need to convince people to join new sites or subscribe to programs or publications. Also, naturally, people form groups around shared interests or causes, thus finding an audience online is easy.
Increase in accidental learning opportunities. In driving towards a change in society, for instance, people might be advocating against FGM, to achieve this, other aspects of girl child empowerment arise in the course of the discussion. Thus, it also brings in about other positive results because girl child education is a component of empowerment. Therefore, it is limitless to what the discussion can lead to. It has the potential to bring in other helpful changes in society.
There is a great concern in analyzing the effects of online media for social change. Digital divide as a matter describes the potential for a division between those connected to the internet versus those not connected. The success of online media activism is limited if a majority of a population is not internet connected.
Policy implications. Most social media platforms have poor policies in regards to protection of user details. In such cases, they may be forced by governments to release user information to help identify criminals. In this way, activists who may not be pro-government are easy targets (Correa, 2010). Unfriendly policies may be exploited by governments to spy, misinform as well as incriminate activists thus endangering their course.
Use of online media irrespective of the current limitations it may have in driving for social change is, therefore, a welcome tool of communication because of the masses it reaches. Awareness of issues most often leads to developing of solution which in turn leads to changes from the status quo.
Thi Bao Chau Tran
Correa, T., Hinsley, A.W. and De Zuniga, H.G., 2010. Who interacts on the Web?: The intersection of users’ personality and social media use. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(2), pp.247-253.
Flew, T., 2007. New media: An introduction. Oxford University Press.
Papic, M. and Noonan, S., 2011. Social media as a tool for protest. Stratfor Global Intelligence, p.3.