140 Characters or Less: Revolution Through Social Media

The other day, my 15 year old cousin sent me a “friend request” on FaceBook.

I attempted to educate him on the phenomenal power he had with a FaceBook account but my advice quickly entered one ear and out the other. He was blinded by photos from Homecoming, “poke wars,” and the latest high school gossip.  I soon realized that many Americans do not quite understand the capabilities they have with social media. The rest of the world, however, has not been shy to teach us “how it’s done.”

Bit of Background

FaceBook (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006) were created as entertainment entities. YouTube was a place to post home videos, Twitter/Facebook updated you on what John or Jane ate for breakfast in 140 characters or less, and text messaging was a means to avoid the labor of calling someone.  As these entities reached a global level, the game would soon change.

With the ability to connect to the world in a matter of seconds, technology has placed the future of foreign policy in the hands of the people. For the first time, ordinary people took to the Internet as a way to reveal the hardships and lack of justice they face that otherwise go unnoted. When an alleged corrupted election was ignored by the media, the Mexican people showcased their frustration to the world via YouTube. The people of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy unified in cyberspace to have their voices heard about the policies in the EU. And most recent, the opposition forces to overthrow Assad, began their mobilization through (you guessed it), a FaceBook group page.

Silent, but Deadly

In 2001, Philippine President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was facing an impeachment trial under charges of corruption but was let free after evidence that could have convicted him was put aside.  Filipinos seemed to remain quiet, but what legislators did not know was that their cell phones would be louder than a bomb. Over a five day period, messages such as, “Wear black,” “go to Epifanio de los Santos Avenue,” and “we need 1 million at the rally to take down Erap!” were forwarded. The texts assembled over a million protesters on a major crossroad in Manila, causing officials to decide to allow the evidence which lead to the impeachment of Erap.

Fast forward a decade.

In 2010, the U.S. Government released a statement that for the first time ever, a U.S. citizen had successfully carried out a suicide terrorist mission in Somalia. The recruited American was one of twenty Americans that enlisted in the terrorist group. This recruitment process was not carried out in secrecy however.  Instead, the group used the social media YouTube to recruit members and deliver messages by video.

Around this time, social media was propelling the Arab Spring in revolutions that occurred in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.  Activists in these countries used FaceBook and Twitter to organize them, which proved it to be the most effective way of fast-paced communication the world has ever seen.

Two years later, an anti-Islam video surfaced on YouTube, showing the prophet Mohammad in a scurrilous fashion, resulting in protests in the Muslim World, including Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq which was originally thought to have been the cause of the death of Ambassador Stevens.  This sparked the debate of how much freedom should Americans actually have in social media. The framers of our Constitution would have never fathomed such a scenario.  Fortunately, President Obama was able to put the future of social media in perspective for Americans during his speech to the UN General Assembly:

     Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to   express their views — even views that we profoundly disagree with.  We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. 

Many of these events that originate from social media are cries for governmental action from around the world. Today, if the people are not heard in traditional media or are prevented to in dictatorial governments, they have the capability of being louder than ever. In the last decade, our foreign policy has been forced to shape itself around these platforms. A hundred years ago, people were convinced that the pen was mightier than the sword.  My generation laughs at this. Today, the pen may be mightier than the sword, but my “tweet” is mightier than both combined.  And all I need is 140 characters or less.

Do you use social media? How effective do you believe it can be? Share your thoughts!

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