I think the internet is absolutely incredible. Right now, I’m using it to type this, to listen to music on Spotify and to keep up with Brexit on BBC News. Just a few minutes ago, I was using it to tweet a picture of my cat. I have a Reddit tab open right now and my GoodReads page is sitting, waiting for me to review a book.
The possibilities are endless and social media has torn down the tall walls that hindered communication worldwide. As Jon Ronson states, this breaking down of boundaries has meant that those who were formerly voiceless, silenced by oppression, situation and location, can now make their stories told. Think about the recent crisis in Sudan. Personally, I learned more about the crisis from social media – and especially from the Twitter page of Channel 4 journalist Yousra Elbagir – than from the news. This is because social media gave the Sudanese people the opportunity to speak out about what was occurring in their country and to make a stand against it.
This is undoubtedly the greatest thing about social media, as Ronson suggests. If social media had been around in 1938, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain addressed the British public on the issue of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, stating ‘How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing’, he would have been entirely incorrect. The people of Czechoslovakia would have had the ability to create international outrage over Adolf Hitler’s invasion of the country, #StandwithSudetenland would have trended on Twitter for weeks, and the events leading up to the Second World War may well have gone entirely differently.
Of course, this is merely speculative. But it is interesting to consider, as Ronson states, the extent to which social media has revolutionised communication worldwide, and allowed the voices of the voiceless to finally be heard. If the people of Czechoslovakia had been able to create a media outrage to the extent of the #StandwithSudan movement, one can only imagine how different the course of history could have played out. Had the people of Czechoslovakia been able to make their views known to Neville Chamberlain before the 1938 Munich Conference, via tweeting him, sending him an email or posting videos of the atrocities online, the policy of appeasement might have been abandoned much earlier. The common factor between Sudan in the 2010s and the Sudetenland in 1938 is that their people were voiceless, silenced by oppression. Sudan had the edge of social media.
Aside from conflicts, we can also consider individuals and how much social media has been able to give people a voice on topics they are passionate about. My Twitter followers would never have heard of me without social media, few though they are; to many of them, I would be a nameless figure in the population of Britain, not a person at all. Social media allowed me a voice to express my views on a much larger platform than the typical soapbox in Hyde Park. A piece of poetry I wrote, inspired by the abortion ban in the state of Georgia in the US, received an unprecedented amount of attention and was retweeted by people from across the world. Had I not had social media to share this, my voice on the issue would have been inaudible.
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg is another excellent example of this. If her speech to the UN did not go viral online in 2018, Thunberg would likely be another figure in the crowd in the present, a face under a sign during a march. Social media allowed her voice to be heard, and just this week (as I am writing) she spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York as one of the most influential figures in today’s world.
This is an absolutely incredible concept. If you had told someone in the 1950s that one day, everyone in the world would have an equal opportunity to make their views heard through an international platform, they would have called you mad.
Undoubtedly, there has, for some time, been mechanisms in place for allowing the voices of individuals to be heard. One only has to look to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 70s in America to see how the most marginalised and silenced groups in society can rise up and make a stand for what they believe in, with a dash of civil disobedience and good legal education to help. They achieved a more secure franchise for the African American population, outlawed the Jim Crow laws and spread the message worldwide that racial discrimination would no longer be tolerated, all without the use of social media. Furthermore, social media is not free of its issues. They are ubiquitous – giving everyone in the world a voice can bring many issues with it. Yet, regardless, the ability of social media to do this is the exact ability that leads to a more global, conscious society. Allowing the most marginalised groups in the world an opportunity to speak up is exactly how progress is made and there is no greater contribution to this phenomenon in today’s world than that made by social media.
Consider, as you scroll through Twitter or Instagram, how many of the people you follow you would know about had they not been given a voice through social media. Consider how many of your followers would not know about you.
Consider following the voiceless: those tweeting, with few responses, for their views may be truly revolutionary, they may be those who are going to change the world.
Create the impact.