Critically assess the role of social media in advancing political and social change in the United States of America

 

In the United States Of America the first and most prominent example of social media bringing about a political or social change was during the election of the first African American president, Barack Obama. Obama was one of the first politicians to tap into social media platforms such as twitter in order to relate to a new emerging audience, his social media success is regarded as one of the main reasons he was so successful against so much adversity. Since then social media has been an important factor in the process of promoting change for celebrities and leading figures. Now, in 2018, it has got to the point where achieving widespread advancement would be an almost impossible task to do without advocating it on social media. Nowadays Social media is incredibly important in terms of spreading a message and getting people involved, Donald Trump uses twitter to communicate to the American people and also to fire people in his cabinet, hashtags are used by influencers and celebrities to enforce social change such as the recent ‘Times up’ movement. Its role however is still limited, in order to force change there still needs to be an action, the recent school shootings in America have formed a strike across the country calling for more gun control, simply giving your condolences and putting a hashtag in front of a statement isn’t enough.
In Erik Qualmans book ‘Socialnomics, how the media transform the way we live and the way we do business’ he discusses Obamas social media strategy by stating, ‘Barack Obama understood it was now a people driven economy, and he rode this philosophy and strategy all the way to the White House. He was able to leverage social media to mobilize the young and the old alike’ Here it can be seen that Qualman is arguing the point that Obama used social media to send a message across different age groups to enforce a common political agenda to a number of demographics, and also to connect these different groups to each other. However, this alone cannot be the reason Obama got into the White House, it was also due to his numerous speeches and his real-life interactions with the people of America that made his campaign more human and relatable. Therefore, it can be argued that the role of social media was to spread a common message and share ideas among a variety of different demographics. It has been said that if Facebook was a country it would be the third largest in the world, therefore it is definitely an important platform to engage people, however it is simply an initiator, this alone did not make the people of America vote for the first black president of the United States.
However, other experts have argued otherwise about the significance of social media in enforcing change. For example, Ann Majchrzak states that ‘little is known about how these social media technologies may change the way individuals are engaged in the way knowledge is shared across the organization.’ I believe that this is also a fair statement. Through my own interpretation of this statement it can be said Majchrzak is arguing the idea that although ideas and organisations are gaining more views and more people are seeing what has to be said it doesn’t necessarily mean that these individuals are becoming engaged and putting a physical action to what they are seeing on these social media platforms. In simple terms I believe Majchrzak is saying that social media allows people to talk the talk but not walk the walk.
On the other hand, there are many arguments against this statement. For example in the abstract to Christopher Wilsons book ‘Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square’ he states that, ‘ we demonstrate that social media in general, and Facebook in particular, provided new sources of information the regime could not easily control and were crucial in shaping how citizens made individual decisions about participating in protests, the logistics of protest, and the likelihood of success.’ This brings about an interesting point and suggests an interesting view on how social media can affect social or political change. Here Wilson is arguing that social media can bring people together and makes it easier for people to organise and stage a process, it allows societies and organisations to discuss tactics that will make their movement as successful as possible. Moreover, this quote does lack weight in correlation to America as Wilson is describing the affects of social media and political change in Egypt and not America. Therefore, to link this argument specifically to America it is possible to study the effect of the student protests in America in reaction to the alarming rates of school shootings.
Sarah Gray (Politics and crime editor for Time inc.) writes in her article ‘What to Know About March for Our Lives and Other Student-Led Gun Control Protests’ and shines some light on how social media has played a role in the protests. Gray writes, ‘advocating for stricter gun-control laws and more mental health resources for treating troubled peers. Following the shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, including Emma Gonzalez, have been vocal on social media and in traditional media to call for action with their refrain “never again.”’ Wilson then follows this up with images from twitter including tweets from the official twitter pages from hashtag ‘never again’ and ‘March for our lives’ with each page gaining tens of thousands of retweets per post. Therefore, it is possible to argue that social media was an enormous factor in making the walkout Wednesday protest a success, it allowed students to know about the protest and how to conduct it on a national scale rather than just in one concentrated area of America. The introduction of social media has allowed students from all over the country to connect and conduct the same protest in order to demonstrate their views on gun control, this has arguably given the population more democracy and more of a voice in order to enforce social and political change. Furthermore, through looking into the history of school protests in America and noticing the success of school walkouts in enforcing political and social change in terms of anti-racism campaigns it can be argued that although social media does make it easier to connect people with similar views it doesn’t necessarily mean that social media is absolutely vital in enforcing these fundamental changes.
Some experts would argue the case that the best way to enforce political change would be to become involved in politics. This does not necessarily mean that the said person would have to be involved in social media. It would be possibly to follow politics through news corporations and attend meetings to determine who you are going to vote for, that vote would then be a contribution to a major political change such as a new prime minister. In Laurel Weldon’s book ‘When protest makes policy’ he argues that, ‘Mobilisation of socially and economically disadvantaged groups is more easily undertaken in the informal, fluid world of social movements, because formal institutions tend to disempower and exclude these groups. The entry costs are lower for social movement mobilisation. Moreover, social movements can be very influential… social movements can be more effective avenues of policy influence than electing larger numbers of women or minorities into office, voting, traditional lobby groups or political parties.’ As stated above it is clear that throughout the most recent decades social media has had an impact on social protests and movements. Through linking the fact that social media has strengthened protests and the argument that Weldon presents that protesting is the most influential and effective way of creating political change for minorities it is fair to note the statement that social media has been incredibly influential in shaping politics and creating social change, to link back to the original question. The statement does however lose some weight as it fails to take into account how Obamas presidency reshaped politics in America and inspired many minorities to follow in his political footsteps after his two terms.
In conclusion, Social media has made a definite impact in advancing the role of social and political change in America. Even the way in which politics is conducted has been reshaped as we see the current president Donald Trump using his social media presence and twitter to fire people working under him and using social media to let the public know of his personal political opinions and law changes. There has been some experts and writings that argue the fact that its not social media that enforces political and social change. Through looking at history and seeing the success of political movements especially for minorities in America it can be argued that there is validity in the statement. Martin Luther King eventually found success before social media became a common privilege and it was dedication and sacrifice that came down to the eventual changes in the perception of race in America. However, I believe that perhaps social media would have made these progresses happen quicker and in a more efficient manner. Social media allows everyone to have a voice and allows people with similar mind sets to discuss and plan how to make change, it connects people. Social media also allows a platform for people to advertise and post videos and articles that may change the mind of people who would be considered the opposition to social and political change. There is the case to argue that it also gives the opposition a platform to argue against change but in my opinion it would have benefitted the minorities and still does to this day who normally don’t have as much of a voice or an argument as they are normally allowed in real life. The way students in America have utilised social media to benefit their case against gun violence is a prime example and a pivotal point in the way democratic countries such as America bring about social and political change.

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