A couple of years ago we saw how Twitter was being used as a tool for collaboration during a time of unrest in Iran. In the past few years, the role of blogs and cell phones has helped everyday Cubans learn about the outside world previously shut out through traditional media outlets. And uncensored access to Google in China has made headlines in the past couple of years as well. Now given the situation in Northern Africa, including the shutdown of Internet access in Egypt, the role of social media tools is once again shedding light on the question as to what role social media plays in the political world. What do you think? Do social media have political power?
The Political Power of Social Media
Since the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s, the world’s networked population has grown from the low millions to the low billions. Over the same period, social media have become a fact of life for civil society worldwide, involving many actors — regular citizens, activists, nongovernmental organizations, telecommunications firms, software providers, governments. This raises an obvious question for the U.S. government: How does the ubiquity of social media affect U.S. interests, and how should U.S. policy respond to it? As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. In the political arena, as the protests in Manila demonstrated, these increased freedoms can help loosely coordinated public’s demand change.