Social Media and Social Change

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MM3B03 Professor Sinclair Andrew Carreiro Brandon Mina - 0659177 December 8, 2009

Social Media and Social Change: A Closer Look at the Revolutionary Qualities of Social Media In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, "the medium is the message" (McLuhan). McLuhan suggests that messages are greatly affected by the medium in which they are delivered. Messages must be received in the proper channel to create social change. On July 21, 1969, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong created history when he sent his message to 3.631 billion people via radio and television, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Forty years later another astronaut created history by sending the first tweet from outer space, "Launch was awesome!!! I am feeling great, working hard, and enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!"(AP). While many people see online activity on social media sites as a past-time, a growing trend and even a fad, it is actually the biggest key player in creating social change. This is why NASA has more Twitter accounts than any federal agency. The biggest reason NASA has been extremely keen about adopting social media is because of the collapse of interest in space programs, said the NASA chief of public affairs Bob Jacobs. NASA also has plans to incorporate YouTube on their next shuttle flight to field questions from space (AP). The message is clear, NASA looks to generate more interest in space programs or to create social change and they look to social media tools to help them. We are in the midst of a communicative revolution fuelled by social media and driven by the masses. Social media possesses the intrinsic power to change the world even in the most marginal of ways. A closer look at the ability social media has to

generate dialogue, its ability to change perception and persuade, and its ability to connect and unite the masses democratically, will demonstrate the power that social media possesses to enable a revolution. It will demonstrate a profound shift in the way that we communicate and denounce social media as a current fad or passing trend. Many people credit the television for its ability to deliver a high quality message. In fact it would be extremely hard to misunderstand a message delivered through such a high sensory communicative channel. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for its "dumbing down" qualities. In Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future, Mark Bauerlein suggests that Generation Y, that is - a generation of youth born in the late 1970's to the late 1990's - spend wasteful hours on social networking sites posting useless updates and sending mundane messages (Bauerlein 12). But the Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain reminds us that "the qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful" (qtd in Cohen). It is the same qualities that give social media a high quality communication channel for inspiring social movements amongst participants. Participants of social media are often required to create accounts or profiles and as a result participants are left with a sense of community. Because all content on social media sites are user-generated, any information or message posted on a given site is automatically received as word of mouth dialogue and this is the powerful nature of social media. It is important to note that dialogue is unrestricted to mediums. It can occur via face to face interaction, by telephone, by email or even a social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or MySpace. Danah Boyd suggests that comments in a world of social media act as conversation in the real world (Boyd 124). Her compelling article, Why Youth Love Social

Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life argues that profiles, friends and comments "differentiate social...
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