“Social media – a force for good?”

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Social media buttons (Courtesy, Google.com)

Forget about who Janis Krums is for a moment. He is neither Barrack Obama or the Russian ‘bully’ Vladimir Putin. Actually, he was nothing until his tweet of the plane that crashlanded on the Hudson River made him a Twitter sensation. Krums was just on a ferry to rescue the lucky passengers when he took the shot on his iPhone, Tweeted it by Twitpic and had the whole world looking for his telephone address. (http://www.editorsweblog.org/2009/01/19/twitter-first-off-the-mark-with-hudson-plane-crash-coverage )

Thirty years earlier, it would have been stale news before people saw what happened. Thanks to social media, Krums became not just an instant celebrity but a reference point for the importance of social media.

From celebrities to wannabes, people are taking to social media in the hope that they would receive global relevance. Only a few weeks ago, the servers of the world’s fastest growing social network, Twitter nearly crashed when Ellen Degeneres twitted her selfie at the Oscars. Minutes after the act, she literally had the world looking for her face. http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1723346/elle-degeneres-oscar-selfie-crashes-twitter.jhtml

Wherever we are, social media is affecting our lives. It’s a revolutionary force that is so strong that its impact is undeniable. America’s Barrack Obama is one of the world’s most influential leaders using social media to advantage. He is the first American president to have a Facebook, Twitter and other social media handles that is regularly updated. The picture of his selfie moment at Nelson Mandela’s funeral nearly got the world talking about him and not the passage of an icon. It revolutionized the word – selfie, now admitted into the dictionary. http://www.forbes.com/sites/tamlinmagee/2013/12/30/what-obamas-mandela-funeral-selfie-tells-us-about-the-web-in-2014/

Everywhere we go, people are using social media. One of the greatest turning moments of this millennium was the impact of social media on the politics of the Middle East. Countless of articles have been written about the impact of the use of social media in propagating the so-called Arab Spring. One thing is certain, young people are using social media as a tool of social mobilization – from Tunisia through Egypt to Libya and currently in Ukraine. Social media is breaking barriers and bringing us closer to what is happening around us. Tunisians chased off their dictator, Ben Ali, the Egyptians unseated Hosni Mubarak and Morsi after him and with social media, Libyans broke the yoke of authoritarianism and dictatorship of the Gadaffi era. http://www.policymic.com/articles/10642/twitter-revolution-how-the-arab-spring-was-helped-by-social-media. Some might argue that it is not always for the best, there has been no lasting peace either in Egypt or Libya, but the young people who rose up against entrenched regimes say they prefer what they have now to what was.

On the entertainment scene, Justin Bieber became an overnight sensation after a video of him was posted on YouTube allowing talent scouts to pick and dust him up. In Britain, Susan Boyle had lost hope of ever becoming a singing sensation until her appearance at a talent show went viral. Her life was transformed. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSDoPY9B0wQ) That initial audition got over two million views. South Korean sensation, Psy broke all records grossing nearly 40 million views with his Gangnam Style official music video in 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIQToVqDMb8 More and more artists are turning to social media for fame and fortune.

Online platforms are money spinners. This year, Facebook announced it has bought Whatsapp for over $20 billion. https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101272463589561 According to Forbes magazine, Mike Zuckerberg; Facebook’s founder’s net worth rose to $28.5 billion by March this year. The social media is only ten years in business. http://www.forbes.com/profile/mark-zuckerberg/

But has all these been for good? That would depend on who you ask or who is responding. American youngster, Dana Snay got the wrong end of the social media stick after a Facebook posting announcing her father’s $80,000 settlement from Gulliver Prep School led to an appeal in which his Dad lost his keep. It has been described as the costliest gaffe on social media. http://www.forbes.com/profile/mark-zuckerberg/

Social media has become our friend, our confidante and our companion. Sometimes, it sucks in on our trust and innocence. Scam artists make use of our unwariness to hack into the pages of our friends and send us SOS messages which mostly people respond to without knowing. This phenomenon has raised the stakes and become a challenge for law enforcement. When angry fans decided to voice their disappointment at losing the Stanley Cup in riots in June, 2011, they did not know that innocuous tweets and posts would become evidence for the police. But combing through their posts, the police were able to arrest and prosecute a lot of the arsonists. http://www.canada.com/sports/Internet+doesn+forget+Managing+disgrace+digital/4992930/story.html

In March this year, the BBC reported the curious case of an unidentified 11-year old missing boy who was found after a Whatsapp alert was sent out by police. A passenger on a train found out that he was sitting close to the boy and called the police. As the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Flight 370 continues, CNN’s Brian Todd reports that Digital-Globe a digital imaging company was using satellite to send high resolution images of the area for crowd sourcing. Whether this succeeds or not, there is no denying that social media would be used to attempt to solve a mystery or reduce the impact of a global tragedy. (http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/crowdsourcing-being-used-to-solve-missing-plane-my/22830/7GF4rW1GyE2VLGNmFRA6eA)

Whatever our answer to the main question – one thing is certain, social media has impacted our lives, it continues to do so. However how it impacts our lives would remain a subject for social and even academic debate for now and a long time to come. Most would actually say to social media – thanks for coming, please stay and don’t go away. Others would wish it would just – go away!

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