Research Paper: Social Media Networks

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Social Media/Facebook

FACEBOOK:

A Vehicle for Political and Social Activism

Randi Zuckerberg, an older sister of the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a marketing director of Facebook until August 2011, told an interviewer last year that the social networking site Facebook would continue to help people around the world mobilize for activism. According to Ms. Zuckerberg, social media is in essence "democratic," as it helps people whose freedom of expression curtailed by laws of autocratic governments air their voices openly and join solidarity movements. Reflecting upon the use of Facebook as a place to organize collective action against injustice and oppression around the world, Ms. Zuckerberg said that Facebook facilitated events which would not otherwise have been possible. Facebook helps to raise money for worthy causes, recruit engaged volunteers, and most importantly, it helps to raise awareness, which, Ms. Zuckerberg said, "is an immensely powerful tool to effect social change" (Vericat 177).

Today one would hardly disagree with the points made by Ms. Zuckerberg, but in 2004, when her brother invented the future social networking giant, it would be hard to envision the global reach and impact of Facebook. It would certainly be hard to imagine the role of Facebook in facilitating the kind of changes Ms. Zuckerberg credited it for. Building a social networking tool for facilitating political activism or social change was not on the agenda of Mark Zuckerberg. An author who investigated the rise of Zuckerberg described the founding of Facebook as "a tale of sex, money, genius, and betrayal" (Mezrich). The words "activism" and "social change" did not feature in that story. And yet, Facebook, among other things, has become a venue for political activism and social change. From using Facebook to mobilize people against revolutionary terror of FARC in Columbia to organizing protests in the Middle East and elsewhere, the social networking site has become a tool for activists around the world.

But while Facebook can be used by people who yearn for better future and fight against oppression, injustice, corruption, tyranny, and other political and social ills all over the world, it can also be used by authoritarian governments and terror groups to track down the activists and punish them. Social networking, just like the Internet, can be used as much for liberation as it can for political and social control (Diebert & Rohosinski). Nevertheless, one may argue that the role Facebook played in galvanizing protests and revolutions in recent years has been significant. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how a tool designed to connect students across campus at Harvard reached different parts of the world and became a vehicle for political and social activism as well as the challenges Facebook poses in the face of authoritarian governments that are quick to adapt to technological innovations. After providing brief background information about Facebook and its global reach, the paper will discuss the role Facebook has played in recent successful and failed revolutions in the Middle East.

Facebook's global impact

Facebook is the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg who invented it when he was a sophomore student at Harvard. Initially designed to work within the Harvard network, it allowed students to post their photos and information about their class year, gender, and music and movie interests. The project turned out to be popular and was therefore extended to colleges in Boston area and later to Columbia and Stanford. In 2005, Facebook became public and open to all users who spoke English. Since then Zuckerberg's project has grown fast, becoming a truly worldwide phenomenon within a matter of half a decade. Facebook now boasts to have more than 800 million active users. Half of the users login to Facebook every day. Facebook is available in over 70 languages and three fourth of its users are from outside the United States. On average, a user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages or groups, while in general 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook on any given day (Facebook statistics).

Researchers who have studied the impact of Facebook on American citizens have noted that exploring who uses Facebook and why may be telling in terms of political and social relations. Zuniga and Valenzuela studied the demographics of Facebook in America and found that greater number of women, African-Americans, and Hispanics use social networking than men and non-Hispanic whites. This finding attests to the empowering potential of social networking to minority groups. They also found that while the percentage of those with household income of $100,000 or more who use Facebook was 37%, the percentage of those whose income was below $100,000 was 40 to 51%. Zuniga and Valenzuela analyze these findings from the perspective of digital divide, and argue that social networking sites "could emerge as a digital tool that promotes a more balanced and democratized use of the information contained in their pages" (Zuniga and Valenzuela xxxv). In other words, Facebook may be a tool for learning more about other people and ideas for politically and socially disadvantaged in developed countries such as the United States as well.

Today, however, those with access to power and money do not ignore the power of Facebook and other social networking media either. As recent political campaigns and elections in 2008 and 2010 have demonstrated, effective use of social networking media can be crucial in modern politics. Many observers have noted that the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Meetup to post news, updates, and mobilize volunteers as well as raise hundreds of millions of dollars by the Obama team helped Obama defeat Hillary Clinton although the latter was more well-known and had stronger political connections. Republican candidates learnt a lot from that experience and in the 2010 midterm elections used social networking heavily. 74% of congressional candidates who had greater number of Facebook friends than their opponents won the elections. In 2012, both the Democrats and the Republicans may have to contend with the Tea Party activists who heavily rely on social networking in their public campaigns since it has now become "inextricably a part of the political communication landscape" (Partridge 83-84).

Like in the United States, the significance of Facebook's impact in a global scale is truly phenomenal. In his anthropological study of the Facebook effect in Trinidad, Daniel Miller finds different ways Facebook can affect the society in the small island. A marriage can break up, while a man in his sixties may return to social life thanks to Facebook. A woman may find out that seeing what you see on Facebook is truer than what you see in physical contact, while for another woman being publicly visible on Facebook allows her to remain extremely private. Miller also finds that Facebook can be used for spreading the Word of God, among many other things. For many people, Miller says, Facebook is a sort of a meta-friend to whom "we turn to when we are feeling lonely, depressed or bored, when life seems to have less purpose than usual" (Miller 171). And, of course, Facebook can be used to galvanize support for social causes as was the case when the Trinidadians responded to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

One of the key issues that come up in the analysis of Facebook's global impact is the American context within which the social networking operates. It has more users from outside America now, but its core values still reflect what is taken for granted in the United States. For example, Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials have emphasized the importance of transparency and openness that are built into the system of Facebook. These may play out in different ways at various international and intercultural contexts. Both the transparency and openness of Facebook may be empowering in many cases but also lead to tragic consequences. When a conservative Saudi father found out that his daughter had been interacting with men online, he killed her. When Facebook users became increasingly active in the United Arab Emirates, by opening groups such as "Gulf Air Sucks," "Boycott Dubai's Dolphinariums," and "Lesbians in Dubai," the government wanted to ban Facebook. Likewise, a Senator in Italy unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill that would ban online content that "ignites or justifies" criminal behavior after many Facebook users publicly praised imprisoned mafia bosses (Kirkpatrick 278-280).

These and other examples show that Facebook is indeed a disruptive force. It disrupts social norms that are built into political systems, social relations, cultures, and religions. It is impossible to categorically state that this is a good or a bad thing. But one thing is for sure: Facebook and other social networking media may balance and decrease power gaps around the world since Facebook may add little to the already existing power of authoritarian governments and groups around the world, whereas it may empower the politically and socially advantaged persons in new and innovative ways. It is not surprising then that Facebook has become a venue for opposing political and social injustice in different parts… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Social Media Networks.  (2011, November 26).  Retrieved December 10, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/social-media-networks/4503516

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"Social Media Networks."  Essaytown.com.  November 26, 2011.  Accessed December 10, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/social-media-networks/4503516.