THE CIRCULAR

How Social Media has changed the rules of the game

It is undeniable that social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… have given a voice to those who previously had none. The Internet opens up a world of possibilities where we can all give our opinion, good or bad, about whatever we want. 

There are thousands of examples on the Internet that demonstrate the power that social networks give to individuals when it comes to vindicating their ideals and opinions. Society is increasingly willing to question principles that were perceived as immutable, whether they relate to gender, patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism or fossil fuel consumption and people have found the Internet as the tool to express all these protests. 

Everyone knows the acronym BLM today despite its origin dating back to 2013. The totally avoidable murder of African-American George Floyd in the United States by a white police officer in 2020 set the networks ablaze with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreath and made worldwide visible a movement that already existed 7 years ago. The Internet was full of videos where you could see how the policeman pressed with his knee the neck of George Floyd, who was already immobilized on the ground, for at least 8 minutes. Floyd repeated several times that he could not breathe but still the policeman did not stop and caused his death by asphyxiation. 

Protest against police brutality and racism. Source: Pixabay
 

What began as a “inoffensive” social movement in networks, had enough power to transfer its strength to the streets all around the world. Local protests against racism and police brutality began in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota before quickly spreading across the country and to more than 2,000 cities and towns in more than 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The Black Lives Matter movement already belongs to the history of the United States and the world, giving voice and focus to a problem that has existed in the world since time immemorial, all thanks to the power of social networks and their users.

But this movement on social networks capable of mobilizing an entire society is not an isolated case. If we go back to 2017, we find another of the biggest cases of social vindication through the Internet, the Me-Too movement. A movement that arose as a protest against sexual assaults and abuse in Hollywood in general and by Harvey Weinstein in particular. The movement was sparked by actress Alyssa Milano who following the widespread exposure of allegations of predatory behavior by Harvey Weinstein wrote the following tweet, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”

The tweet quickly went incredibly viral. A 2018 study by Pew Research Center noted that the #MeToo hashtag was used more than 19 million times on Twitter since actress Alyssa Milano’s initial tweet, that means that people was using the hashtag 55.000 time per day on average. Part of this success was also thanks to the involvement of other Hollywood personalities such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Ellen DeGeneres and many more, who responded to that tweet and gave it great visibility by sharing their experiences and showing the support to all the victims.  

Both examples show perfectly how digitalization and social networks are a perfect tool to give a voice to all individuals in society who want to participate, public debates are being more inclusive, especially with those minorities of the population that had been marginalized before. Moreover, debates on the internet have sometimes enough strength and support to mobilize political change to the “real” world. 

BUT, the Internet and digital social platforms also hide their dark side. It has become clear that the Internet is still, at times, a messy, chaotic, ill-mannered, ignorant, harmful place. Universality is not always beneficial. The Internet has allowed everyone to have a voice, even those who go against society itself. Digitalization has brought with it the possibility for anyone to “play” the role of journalist, without being a journalist or being properly educated for it. This has led to a sea of disinformation, manipulation, fake news… 

There are different factors that motivate this propaganda and “fake news” that we are seeing in the digital age. Sometimes it is a deliberate attempt to spread false information or sow doubt in people’s minds, as for example in Russian disinformatzya tactics. And other times, the motivation is purely economic, as in the case of the Macedonian teenagers who targeted Trump supporters in the 2016 US presidential election for the advertising revenue they received.

This situation is quite delicate at a time when established and “classical” sources and institutions have lost credibility and people do not know how to identify precisely when news is false, since it provides an ideal terrain for those who wish to manipulate the opinion of the public sphere. It is also important to note that much of the money in advertising that was invested in traditional media is now found in digital platforms, casting doubt on the independence of these platforms. What is worth more, the number of clicks and the traffic that you bring to your page, or the value and integrity of the content? 

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