Social Media – Love it or hate it, in one shape or another it is here to stay. I reluctantly joined Facebook, because for a while it seemed that I was missing out on often important news because I wasn’t on Facebook. My relationship with FB has always been a love/hate thing. I frequently consider closing my account, and I use it a lot less these days, but it is still a handy way to stay in touch and share things with friends and family who are far away.
Twitter is a very different platform. I initially thought that it was a backwards step from FB, with the character limitation on posts, and limited facility to share photos, etc. However, each upgrade tweaks little niggles, and I do believe that these limitations are what makes it work. Being restricted to 140 characters makes you have to think carefully about what you say. Conversations move very quickly, things can be shared multiple times in seconds, and people are now very savvy at saving things, so that you can never take back what you said – even if you delete it.
As in any forum, there are those who are rude, abusive, and often unwelcome. That is just a fact of human nature. – and it is very easy to ignore, mute, or block someone. And many users are getting very wise to identifying accounts which are suspicious – new, anonymous, probably set up just to attack a person or group before disappearing. These accounts are usually highlighted to others, and their users are challenged. For me, the positives far outweigh the minor negatives. Small children lose loved toys, holidaymakers lose cameras, pets run off, and often they are reunited very quickly because strangers will share this information if there is the slimmest chance that someone they know might know someone who might re-tweet it to the right person. And of course there are the much bigger things – Facebook introduced the facility for people to ‘check in’ to confirm they are safe after incidents, twitter has been used to let people know about petitions, collections, and ways to help those caught up in incidents. The majority of humankind appear to be basically good people, and this comes through again and again.
Politically, it is clearly a mixed blessing. The ability to share information with large numbers of people can be very helpful. Unless you later discover (or worse still someone else does) that the information you have shared was incorrect. Fact-checking has become a very profitable business for some. Mainstream media seem to be having to apologise a lot more, because it is a lot easier to check the accuracy of their claims. I say they seem to be apologising more, because it may also be the case that their apologies are being more widely shared on social media. Either way, anyone who wants to has many more options for where and how to get their information, and this does mean that we can be as open – or close-minded as we choose. This is another significant difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, users choose who can see their information and comment on it, so it is easy to stay in your wee bubble and never see opinions that you don’t agree with. On Twitter, any user can read and respond to your tweets, unless you choose to block them, in which case this fact is often shared, and used as evidence of your unwillingness to engage or defend your position.
This brings me to another key factor – the where and how of obtaining information. Printed publications are so often superseded by events. Television doesn’t have to be watched live. And perhaps most importantly, smartphones mean that a lot of people have access to information and events as they happen, at any time of day or night, whether you are at home, work, commuting, overseas on holiday, etc. This information sharing is very hard to police. Any person can share photos, audio, or video to these platforms, and this can then be shared more widely by their contacts. Facebook now offers the opportunity to live-stream video footage – so that potentially millions of people worldwide can watch any major event as it unfolds. Admittedly there are downsides to this – suicides and murders being broadcast live, and people sharing footage of ongoing police incidents which could potentially pose a security risk, or adversely impact on later legal proceedings. But they can also be very positive in terms of people being much more aware of the reality of events.
However, I seem to have digressed. In the title I promised a revolution. Where is this revolution?
I’m not sure that I really want a revolution, not in the traditional sense. There are other ways to achieve change – through discussion, debate, information sharing, fact-checking, and joining together to hold those in power to account. But social media is playing an increasing role in all of these, and you are probably missing out on a lot of great stuff if you’re not a part of it ( including some fun stuff like Emergency kittens, and Lego re-enactments of safety messages). I think that real change could come about through the actions of a relatively small number of people, because they would be able to generate real-time support , opinion and discussion. It leaves very few places for those in power to hide, and makes it easier for them to be held to account. There have already been numerous instances of mainstream media outlets such as the BBC being forced to change/remove/include reports on events because of significant pressure on social media. This ‘people power’ is why the Westminster government are keen to have tighter controls over the internet, and it is why we should all be fighting any sort of control. We have a right to know the truth about events that affect us, and to know how we can be involved in helping to support those in need, or those who have the guts to stand up and speak out, when others are afraid to.
When news of the revolution is tweeted, I am confident that I will be aware of it fairly quickly, and I promise you that I will re-tweet it. I hope you’ll join me.