Nowadays, social media seems to be the playground of marketers and corporations frantically trying to sell products, loyalty programs, and coupons. While many choose to shun social media because of that, its true potential goes far beyond.
Social media, as a means of quick, open, and transparent communication, has played a crucial role in a milieu of recent events. In less than 9 months, we’ve all witnessed as social media played the role of facilitator, organizer, instigator and conspirator. From Cairo to San Francisco, social media has found itself thrown into the center of political and social movements that have dethroned presidents and threatened to shut down transportation systems.
This year, authorities have attempted to repress means of communication that are now commonplace—social networks, wireless networks, forums, and the like—as a preventative measure. However, we’ve all witnessed how these measures not only failed, but in some cases backfired, ultimately worsening the situation.
Former Egyptian Commander Hosni Mubarak’s attempt to shut down communication networks —wireless and social networks included—ultimately backfired, as it further invigorated protesters against his dictatorial rule. San Francisco’s transit organization temporarily cut off cell service in a few metro stations in an attempt to quell organized protests, only to have its website shut down by ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous and prompt a Federal Communications Commission probe.
If there’s any takeaway from these examples that have now made their mark in history, it’s this: if social media—as a means of communication—is repressed or controlled, the repercussions will be greater than just raising a few eyebrows.
Rather than repress and control our evolving means of communication, these should be embraced. Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State, said in a recent interview with Mashable, “…living in an increasingly networked world means that power is devolving from nation states and large institutions to individuals and small institutions.” The pace of innovations in digital communications is a force greater than any one person, leader, movement, or nation.
Social media is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit one to be reckoned with. It’s a tool that, when used properly, acts as an open and transparent two-way dialogue. One cannot dictate, limit, or restrict social media; the consequences of doing so are clear. Rather than preemptively controlling a sensitive situation, we must first ask ourselves: how can we use social media to establish a dialogue that ultimately benefits everyone?