The Political Power of Social Media
Political influence is shifting away from the elites, and back to the people. This is, generally a good thing, however, instant communication and unfiltered flows of information are not such a blessing. The result is an unmatched delegitimation of public institutions and a profession, especially government and politicians, is particularly troubling. Stephen Harper currently reflects these attitudes in the Canadian Government. The latest Senate scandals, have contributed to polling results that find less than one in ten Canadians trust politicians. From the empowerment of the masses emerges a troubling paradox: We have more information and data than ever about the critical challenges we face; whether environmental, economic, social, or geopolitical. Yet at the same time, we have less confidence than ever in our politicians' ability to deliver steady, trustworthy and visionary leadership to confront such challenges. This disconnect creates less collective ability to build the consensus and unity of purpose needed to support urgent long-term action on behalf of all Canadians. Because whether we like it or not, individuals acting alone or in disconnected groups cannot build the kind of vibrant, prosperous Canada to which we all aspire. Social networks' co-operative power and our disencumbered access to data are transforming politics, and democracy itself. The media are creators and purveyors of images and information. "We have underestimated the impact of quality social networks," says Ciarán O'Leary, partner at Venture Capital firm Early bird. "We used to kill each other because we didn't know what was going on elsewhere, so would buy into Russia or the US being portrayed as evil. But in a connected world with global friends, we're not going to war with people we see everyday within our social network. We're globally connected and can see what's going on."1O'Leary's claim is a pretty epic one, which he rounded off by stating he believes the internet should win a Nobel Peace Prize. But the sentiment was echoed by other venture capital investors joining him on stage at Web Summit to discuss the markets they were excited by. "We were interested in applications of the internet, not the infrastructure,"2 said Brad Burnham, managing partner at Union Square Ventures, which counts the likes of Twitter and Tumblr in its portfolio. What users and listeners and supporters don’t understand, is that they do not realize that they in fact are investing in networks. Social networks may be everywhere now, but Burnham truly believes we haven't even begun to tap into their potential which means that there are still so many sectors ready to be disrupted by this kind of interconnected world, driven by technology.3 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 in fact 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. That said, the political power in which is attached to social media makes it more common for users to begin to participate.
The use of social media tools; texting, e-mail, photo sharing and social networking does not have a single preordained outcome. Therefore, attempts to...
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