Friday, 19 October 2012

The Power of Social Media

For the first time in the history of media, the power has fallen into the hands of the public, the citizens, and the ordinary. Social media gives every day people a chance to be heard in a world where traditionally, we only hear a handful of important people.

Earlier this year; a nine year old Scottish girl named Martha Payne started a blog online called NeverSeconds, on which she would judge and rate her school lunch each day and write a review of it. Each day she took a photo of her lunch and updated her blog.

At first, there were just a few readers, then hundreds, and then thousands. Her blog grew to have a very substantial audience. After some time, her school shut her down, saying she was no longer able to take photos of her school lunches.

Her audience was outraged, and the response was so overwhelming, the school had no choice but to allow her to continue, even apologising for their action.

She attracted the attention of celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc, and went on to get involved in philanthropic work with feeding starving children in Africa, and just became the youngest award winner at the UK Food Awards.

At a Christian Conference in 2006 in Knoxville, Tennessee; a group of students from The Mission Baltimore School of Emerging Missional Leadership put together a drama to the music of Lifehouse’s Everything. The skit wasn’t the most complex or physically demanding performance; but it was emotionally powerful.

They recorded the performance and uploaded it to GodTube. The video found its way onto YouTube and other websites, and has now been watched more than thirty million times across several video sites. People have recreated the skit over and over. A huge number of large, influential churches across the world have redone the act, now known as the Lifehouse Skit.

The video ministered to thousands of people, moving them to tears and choosing to follow God. Talk shows on radios and television shows featured it; even newspapers had articles about the video “that has moved millions to tears”.

This year, a man named Jason Russel created a short movie that went on YouTube, Facebook, and several other social networking sites. People of all ages and races watched the video from all over the world. Jason was trying to raise awareness about a man named Joseph Kony, whom he believed should be found and killed.

He made the video himself, and with a team of friends, he created a campaign with posters, merchandise, and of course, his world-renowned video. Thousands of people were involved in his Kony 2012 day; in which people plastered walls with posters to raise awareness of his cause.

His video is still one of the most liked videos on YouTube, with over 1.3 million likes.

On June 8, 2010; a man named Wael Ghonim was browsing Facebook when he came upon an image that shocked his to the core. A photograph of a bloody, broken face of a dead man Ghonim learned to belong to Khaled Mohamed Said, a man who had been beaten to death by the Egyptian police.

Ghonim created a Facebook page called We Are All Khaled Said, on the premise that anyone in Egypt could have been murdered by the police that day. He showed his frustration with the oppression happening in Egypt.

Two minutes after he created the page, it had 300 likes. After three months, it was 250,000 likes. The page and the organisation of the people on the page sparked an uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of the ruling National Democratic Party.

These people all have one thing in common: they are nobody to the world. They are not celebrities, but their stories have reached millions of people. They are not royalty, but their influence has changed people’s lives. They have no identity in the world of media, but they still have power.

Even if all they have is a blog, or a video camera, or a Facebook account; the way the internet and social media works allows anyone to have a voice in a world that traditionally has not allowed ordinary, everyday people to have any power.

Anyone can buy a video camera, put together a message, and upload it onto the internet for the whole world to see. Perhaps with the support of social media, someone with a camera could have encouraged Germany to overthrow Hitler; perhaps someone with a blog could have convinced the Americans to free the slaves before a civil war broke out. No one special, no one that people would remember, but someone who had a computer, an internet connection, and a message.

We’re seeing a shift in the social dynamics. Whether it’s a child changing the mind of her school, or a country overthrowing its leader; power is no longer set in stone. The people hold as much power as the leaders do; the young are influencing the old.

As any story has a good side, so too does it have a bad side. It’s so easy to see the good that social media can do, but ignore the bad. Imagine the result of Hitler’s influence and persuasion, on the internet. What we know was only an Eastern European incident could easily have been worldwide. Perhaps social media could have fuelled the American Civil War and resulted in a longer, larger war.

In the words of Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The power has not just shifted, but it has multiplied. Once upon a time, voices could only reach your town, maybe a city if you’re lucky. The message of a King couldn’t even get to an adjoining country.

With newspapers, magazines, telegraphs, radios, mail, airplanes and telephones came a revolution in the way voices could be heard and the way media operated. People could talk to an entire country at once, send messages to people on the other side of the world, send communication all over the world, back and forth, all the time, then came television, satellites, mobile phones, and finally the internet. Now anyone with a computer can address the entire world, for better or for worse.

We have reached the pinnacle of communication. Borders of cities, states, and countries no longer hinder us. We can communicate through walls, overseas, through the Earth, into space, and back again.

No one is powerless any more. No one has to be unheard, or ignored. With the power of the internet and social media, anyone on Earth can send a message to the whole world. Gone are the days of Kings and Queens.

For the first time in the history of civilisation, ordinary people have the power to rule the world.


  1. You’re right, Josiah. Social media has given so much power to the people, which leveled the playing field. No one can play autocrat and not receive worldwide criticisms from concerned citizens. Gone are the days of absolute rule. I just hope humanity makes wise use of this powerful tool.

    Sage Aumick

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