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Assange, Arab Spring and Social Media

Posted: September 25, 2012 by geekscribblings in Social Issues

By Alastair McGibbon

It’s pretty obvious that in today’s society, social media is king. While the most popular social media platforms haven’t yet rendered ‘traditional’ media outlets obsolete, their popularity and colossal user base can’t be denied. Such is the popularity of Facebook that it’s very hard to find a newspaper, TV station or radio station that doesn’t have some kind of Facebook presence.

#Assange hashtag

This picture doesn’t even begin to show the explosion of Tweets regarding Julian Assange.

As a result of society’s current obsession with social media, such outlets can be a phenomenal force for spreading information like wildfire. For example, Julian Assange’s asylum bid at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is a major talking point on Twitter.

It has received so much attention that a hashtag search for #Assange, #Wikileaks or even #Ecuador will bring up thousands upon thousands of tweets, retweets and so on.

To give a better idea of the attention this issue is getting, viewing the #Assange hashtag the afternoon the UK threatened to storm the Ecuadorian embassy resulted in approximately 25 – 50 new tweets every five seconds. In some cases, there were hundreds.

Facebook

Facebook: the communication tool of choice of the 21st century. Will this ever replace newspapers?

There are also a number of other high-profile events that have either taken off as a result of – or heavily influenced by – social media.

A prime example would be the Arab Spring uprisings – not only were social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter credited as significant tools used by the uprisings’ participants, some lauded them as the catalyst of the entirety of the Arab Spring.

Professor Tony Chalkley, of Deakin University, believes that while social media sites such as Facebook do influence us effectively, movements such as the Arab Spring often tend to die off after a certain time.

Professor Tony Chalkley

Professor Tony Chalkley, Deakin University

“Social media certainly has its good points, but the problem is that such campaigns rarely maintain their momentum. Think about the Kony 2012 campaign. Has Kony been caught? Have they stopped the use of child soldiers? The answer is a resounding ‘no’,” Professor Chalkley said.

“We’re a bit like budgies. We have about 60 seconds of attention, and then we tend to lose interest. We lose any and all interest very quickly.”

However, Professor Chalkley points out that when utilized correctly, social media sites can have considerable impact.

“While I was at a conference in Indonesia, a protest was organized using Facebook and Twitter regarding the anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims. Within an hour, they had about 1000 people there, and they went and protested at the nearby KFC, simply because it’s an American-owned company.”

There are also claims that the impact social media has had on such uprisings have been greatly exaggerated. Such critics admit that while the Arab Spring was aided by its use of social media, the technology only served as a substitute for traditional media outlets when they had supposedly failed. This opens up a whole new can of worms, and raises questions that academics have had a field day with.

Wikileaks' Twitter page

Organizations such as Wikileaks regularly utilize social media tools such as Twitter to further their cause.

So how are we – as a society – to adjust to the way in which social media feeds us information? At the moment, we’ve all but assimilated it into our everyday lives.

Amy Jenkin, an avid social media user, believes that our social media habits have effected our expectations of others.

“It (Facebook) has definitely changed people’s expectations when it comes to keeping in touch. People who regularly use social media expect other people to do the same, and we’re expected to know the details of what’s happening in the lives of people we’d probably never talk to in person,” Ms Jenkin said.

Amy Jenkin

Ms Jenkin believes that social media has become a big part of our lives.

However, Professor Chalkley believes that social media is becoming an obsession.

“While there are an increasing number of people that are losing interest in Facebook, we’ve got to the point where there are clinics for people with zero productivity because they’re addicted to Facebook,” he said.

It all seems a bit confronting when put in perspective. More and more people are joining social networking sites, and the influence of Facebook and Twitter just keeps growing. Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Welcome to the revolution.