This is an important question given the increased and evolving uses of social media in political developments around the world. These include the fomenting and reporting on unrest during the Arab Spring, continuing demands by bloggers for human rights in China and the ongoing demonization of minorities in Myanmar by the Buddhist majority.
We might also ask whether social media are inherently democratizing or whether they serve the interests of state organizations, dictatorships and intelligence agencies? Or do they boost politicians in liberal democracies who feed off conspiracy and nativism?
A simple answer or sitting on the fence
These questions have sparked considerable debate and almost everyone has an opinion. The truth is probably that there is credible evidence on both sides of the debate on the effect of social media on political movements and the answer will only be determined by assessing different cases and examining the circumstances. We might conclude that while social media can enable alternative ways of doing things, they may also reinforce pre-existing norms, values and institutions.
Why should we care?
These issues are of immediate interest to many of us.
Firstly, as citizens of Canada, what impact might social media have on the 2019 general election? Should we be devising and enforcing various regulations related to the use of bots, for example, as they might be used to automatically post inflammatory or nonsensical posts, disrupting political discourse while promoting populist views?
As global citizens, examination of these issues provides a very helpful window through which to interpret developments and reach conclusions. How much was Donald Trump able to influence the outcome of the last federal election by constantly framing the debate, then reinforcing opinions by his constant references to “crooked Hillary” and “fake news” in the social media?
As travellers to out-of-the-way destinations, referral to social media posts would help to determine whether to visit or depart from a country undergoing social/political unrest. This is potentially a very useful application as Global Affairs Canada Travel Advisories are often so alarmist that travellers would be reluctant to leave home at all!
Kidnapping, extortion, home invasion, robbery, sexual assault and other forms of aggravated assault are carried out by criminals acting individually or as a group. Assault, armed robbery and carjacking are serious problems … A large percentage of the population … is armed… Guns and other weapons, such as machetes and knives, are frequently used. If you are threatened by robbers, do not resist; injuries and deaths have occurred when victims have resisted. (2017)
Finally, those of us who work as volunteers in developing countries, assisting non-profit organizations seeking funding, a balanced assessment of differing perspectives on the security and political realities would help us (and, ultimately, potential donors) determine whether conditions in a specified country are conductive to delivering aid at all.
A call to action!
What do you think? Should we be concerned about the role of social media in influencing international developments? Are they forces for good or bad? Do social media cause division or amplify it? Depending on your answer to these questions, give some thought as to what each of us can do to help remedy some of the misuses of social media. Get in touch!