Twitter is always slammed for people talking about what they had for lunch, plus the seemingly endless hashtags. But this depends more on how one chooses to use social media- as a global tool for change or to make one look like a tool. However, I’m not here to tell you how to use Twitter- that would be paternalistic. Since there has constantly been a lot of criticism on the value of social media, I simply wanted to frame the debate in a more positive light.
Social media is basically word-of-mouth on steroids. Our ability to praise (or punish, for that matter) with a few keystrokes is arguably revolutionary. Besides cat videos and pics of Kim K’s derrière, the internet is- truth be told- a treasure trove of ideas. Internet’s unrefined nature is exactly where social media would prove to be useful- to give us control of what we’re exposed to. I can now tailor my Twitter timeline to my needs and interests. I get to choose who I follow, whether they are slam poets, journalists, news agencies, podcasts, political activists, actors, musicians, economists or athletes. I also get to mute or unfollow friends who are obnoxious online- a liberty I often exercise. When I’m not sharing adorable One Direction gifs, or pouring my love for Agent Carter, the latest TV series, I’m usually on Twitter to find good reading materials.
The most prominent benefit of social media, in my opinion, is that it has provided a level-playing field (at least to people with internet access– which currently stands at a little over 3 billion). Small businesses have revamped their business plan to take maximum advantage of social media. Businesses with modest budgets need only an Instagram account to advertise their services and products to a wide audience, or to help them target specific demographics. Not only that, customers get to share feedback and product testimonies- valuable information that can be obtained inexpensively through social media. For people with special abilities, social platforms have proven crucial to allow people to see them as people first, before they see them for how they are different.
Another phenomenon brought about by social media is sharing. People have always shared stories- whether gathered around the campfire or by clipping articles from the newspaper- but social media takes this to a whole new level. Everyone is trying to set themselves apart through what they share. Competition for reputation is a strong driving factor for sharing good content on social media. Sharing is also what leads to some contents going viral. There is quite a simple science behind virality. Content, which has gone viral in the past (based on personal observation) had basically one of, or all 3 components: it aroused curiosity, evoked positive emotions and it had an element of surprise or irony. BuzzFeed and Upworthy, both major sharing platforms, have capitalized on this curiosity gap, with click-bait titles and sensationalist headlines to accumulate views.
On a global network that connects billions, its potential is magnified as physical borders recede. Social media has changed how we rally around fund-raising. The best example of this is 2014’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. There have also been many instances where people have amassed fame and attention solely though the internet. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The problem is when people take this attention for granted. I often assert that celebrities with huge following have a greater responsibility of making a difference. When One Direction asked fans to wear only orange to an Amsterdam concert, lo and behold the Ziggo Dome was a sea of orange, screaming pre-pubescent girls, high on dopamine. Imagine if the One Direction boys mobilized their league of young fans to better appreciate the importance of education or politics, for example. Just think of the potential social and economic repercussions of a whole generation of empowered, smart, well-rounded youth. Now, you’re probably thinking: Great, let’s gladly handover the responsibility of educating an entire generation to a boy band whose song lyrics are less intricate than their hairstyles (I can be both a fan and criticize their lack of lyrical ambition okay). Who do you think they are- the President of USA?
To some extent, the voices of young people have been proven to be more powerful than the voice of the President. This is a fact even the President himself have conceded to in a recent YouTube interview with Bethany Mota, the 19-year-old YouTube star, who asked the President what the country is doing to combat cyber-bullying. Celebrities- whether they’re self-made YouTube personalities or the product of reality TV shows- should lend their fame and voice to get young people excited over social change. This form of positive peer pressure is something I believe to be extremely feasible- all it takes is less than 140 characters.
Whether you hate ’em or love ’em, most people are part of social networks and they are here to stay. They may evolve into more sophisticated versions of what they are but as of now, they offer us the best way to reach out and stay connected.