Facebook and Twitter are Just a Means to a Greater End
"Social networks are not the protagonists of
institutional forces. Society is more complex. The
means of communcation and relationship-building (like networks) work as part of society,
also acting as its channel. ... it makes us better as a species to debate
our positions with the world. ... To think beyond this is to write scripts of science fiction."
As soon as Egypt's population
confronted tanks in the street and were shouting against the curfew, thousands
of Tweets (Twitter comments) containing the word Egypt traversed the
world. On the two most famous social networks, Facebook and Twitter, they informed others
about how to get around the Web blockade imposed by local authorities. And as
they disseminated technical information about how to keep the lines of
communications open, the online world launched protests against the attitude of
the Egyptian government.
To limit information leaks
and avoid globalized protests, blockading social networks is one of the first actions
taken by crisis-besieged governments. Quantitatively, this hasn't worked too
well: in the last 72 hours, Twitter messages, worldwide, reached
40 million people, with a total of 541,000 tweets, which generated a billion
messages (source: tweetreach/@fsbprdigital).
But what about qualitatively? And what does that even mean? In each such case, the social networks become the
epicenter of an existential debate: Do they make a difference? What is their effectiveness and role - are they protagonists?
Changers of behavior and society?
The most radical - and those
that profess the apocalypse of traditional media - say that social networking is
this century's definitive means of communication, and as such, generate and
produce collective mobilizations capable of toppling - and yes, sustaining - governments.
Their position is backed by data like: half a billion Facebook users and their
millions of "likes"; 329 million posts per day on blogs; and 1.6
billion Google searches done each day. But their central argument is a vision
of the future: the Internet generation, which was born connected to the Web,
will soon be commanding businesses and governments. Let's see what happens.
At the other extreme are those who see social networking as a slingshot for
celebrities and a virtual media arm of print gossip. They stigmatize the image
of the young, who are connected, superfluous and egocentric. Merely a stage for
the anonymous, where fake profiles prevail over sources of credibility. How,
then, can such a place, where people reveal their daily trivia based on
"weirdness" like hashtags and memes, be an atmosphere for social change?
How can this be a way of expanding knowledge or interfering with the hanging of
a woman in Iran? How can they pressure governments?
Then there are the optimists - including myself - who believe that the
mesh of virtual connections is one of the most revolutionary ways of disseminating
information ever available to man. It brings the same winds that
"liberated" books from monasteries and illuminated humanity.
Posted by WORLDMEETS.US
I believe that with the Internet, social networks raise the profile of local
causes and issues to the global community. Plus: they quickly spill over into
offline communications, causing them to reach even those who aren't connected.
Despite this, I don't believe that the support of causes by social networks
gives them credentials as players in the role of transformative protagonist.
It's a fact that social networks are, indeed, an important way of
accessing and disseminating information. With networks there is no night, no
silence, no curfew, no fees to pay, and censoring is practically impossible.
With characteristics like these, they are able to create what is statistically
understood as a long tail
- for issues that a few years ago would have gone unnoticed or simply never
reach the point of debate. They provide a powerful boost, with a resonance
that can shed light on the shadows of dictatorship, for example.
But they are not the protagonists of
institutional forces. Society is more complex. The means of communcation and
relationship building (like networks) work as part of society, also acting as its
channel. And as such, they must be exhaustively used. Social networks are also
very dynamic, as more people are involved in the conversation. It makes us
better as a species to debate our positions with the world. In this fashion, the
network serves as a perfect amalgram. To think beyond this is to write scripts
of science fiction. This is a vision of today alone, because the method of dissemination
is so efficient that this article, in short, may be dated. Let us see.
*Risoletta Miranda is a colunist and executive director at FSB Digital Public
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