In the video Clay Shirky: How Social Media Can Make History (2009) Shirky discusses to evolution of communication. He states that there have only been five true events in the last 500 years that could be considered communication revolutions. First of all there was the printing press, then conversational media – the telegraph and telephone, next the recorded media – photographs, recorded sounds and movies, then followed by radio and television and last of all, of course, the internet. Where he says radio and television gave us the one to many lines of communication he brings up the point that the internet has now given us, for the first time in history, the many to many form of communication. Shirky also points out that with the internet, which has the power to bring the telephone, movies, TV and others forms of media all into one place; the audience has also now become the producer.
Shirky gives us the example of an earthquake that occurred in China, this earthquake was reported in real time by people who were actually witnessing the event. Photographs and videos were uploaded to the internet showing the destruction, information about the earthquake actually hit twitter before it hit official news outlets. Shirky informs us the last time an earthquake of this size hit China they didn’t report it for three months. They were not given the choice of hiding it this time, as the average person with a smart phone or camera and internet access has the ability to upload this information straight into the hands of people all around the world. This event also lead to the revelation that some Chinese school buildings that had collapsed during the earthquake were infact not up to the quality of the building codes because corrupt officials had been bribed to look the other way. Because of China’s one child policy many parents lost their only child in these earthquakes, and with nothing left to lose they began protesting and demanding answers. Although the Chinese government had let the reporting of the earthquake slide and decided not to try to control it once parents started protesting about the school building scandal the government tried to intervene and begged the protestors to stop. When this failed the Chinese government simply shut down access to sites like Facebook and Twitter as it was impossible to control the flow of information going out to the rest of the world.
This example shows the absolute power social media has to change the world, you can reach millions of people within seconds and there is no way the influx of information going out onto the internet every second can be controlled.
This concept is also discussed in the reading Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010) where it is stated that “Facebook registered more than 175 million active users…this is only slightly less than the population of Brazil (190 million)” (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010). To try and control this amount of people and the information they’re uploading would be completely and utterly impossible. The sheer amount of content uploaded to social media sites is staggering, 10 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, photography site Flickr boats more than 3 billion photographs (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010), with these statistics in mind it is not surprising Shirky tells us social media is capable of changing the world.
In the video Seth Godin: The Tribes We Lead (2009) a similar vein is explored. Godin speaks about tribes. Tribes have existed long, long before the internet and social media but Godin speaks of how the internet can reinvigorate the way tribes function. He explains that the internet gives people everywhere the chance to connect. People who are scattered far away from each other can reach out using the net and unite. He argues, like Shirky, that these tribes can change the world. Godin claims tribe leaders only need to be people who look at the status quo and, finding trouble with it, decide to make a change. Like the parents in China who refused to back down to corruption, leaders aim to make a difference.
Alexis Ohanian gives us an example of this in the video Alexis Ohanian: How To Make a Splash in Social Media (2009). He talks us through the process of his website reddit.com, which is a social news website. This website posts interesting news stories and a group of peers on reddit either vote it up of down, depending on whether they like it or not. Obviously the most popular stories will go to the top and the least popular will fall to the bottom. Alexis gives us the example of a meme that went viral through the use of his reddit website.
The story behind the meme starts with a Greenpeace campaign to stop the Japanese government from killing humpback whales. Greenpeace wanted to put a tracking device on one of the whales, and to personify this movement they decided to hold an online vote to name this particular whale. There were many serious names up for consideration and then a comical one ‘Mister Splashy Pants’.
Someone posted this news article on reddit and the site got really behind the cause, they changed their logo for the day to a whale and then other websites started picking up the story. Through the popularity of reddit and this meme ‘Mister Splashy Pants’ went up in the voting polls from 5% to 70%. Greenpeace were still not sold on the name and decided to keep voting open for another week – reddit really amped up its involvement and Facebook groups started popping up in favour of the name, people started putting up signs in the real world. Eventually Greenpeace relented and after the immense popularity caused by the meme they accomplished their mission, the Japanese government called off the whaling expedition.
This was one just one example of how social media made a big difference in the real world, showing the power that is potentially at all of our fingers.