What started as a platform for updating, interacting with and expanding a person’s network of friends and a venue for self-expression, social media sites and tools have evolved through the years. According to an article published by the website Small Business Trends in May 8, 2013 entitled Complete History of Social Media: Then and Now, the first recognizable social media site was Six Degrees, which was created in 1997. It was a precursor of Facebook where users could post profiles and make friends with users. Then came the first blogging sites in 1999.
MySpace, Linkedin, Photobucket, and Flickr followed in the early 2000s. The most popular sites Facebook and Twitter appeared in 2004. Then came YouTube in 2005 for video sharing. Tumblr, Spotify, Foursquare, and Pinterest followed suit. Netflix and iFlix were the more recent additions.
Facebook has grown in terms of reach, spanning generations, and in functions, with the latest addition live streaming.
With the expansion of users, growth in sites and tools and functions, the use of social media as a platform likewise evolved. It became a venue where people could comment on and express their views, in real time, regarding news, recent developments and government pronouncements. It, in effect, contributed to the expansion of the right to free expression. Eventually, social media became instrumental in mobilizing people such as during the Arab Spring and locally, during the Anti-Pork Barrel mobilization.
Of course it has its downside. As revealed by Edward Snowden, social media sites are being maximized for spying on individuals by governments. It could be used for spreading rumors and false information. And social media could even curtail the right to free expression because of the proliferation of professional trolls and bots that launch virulent attacks against people who express critical views.
So apart from contributing to the expansion of the right to free expansion, could social media be another platform for advocacies and eventually change?
This was the main point of the Digital Advocacy and Citizen Journalism Training sponsored by Bulatlat – Alipato Media Center Inc. with the support of the European Union.
There was consensus that indeed social media needs to be maximized for advocacies on issues and the advancement of the people’s rights in all its dimensions: social, economic, cultural, and political.
However, social media campaigns, to be more effective, should be part of a larger advocacy campaign involving lobbying efforts, information-education drives, mass mobilizations and organizing work. And as in all advocacy campaigns, it needs to be well-planned and targeted; structures and mechanisms have to be set-up; people should be mobilized to participate in the campaign; it should feature people’s lives; posts should be predominantly visual and eye catching, simple and easily understandable; and it should spur people to action. Of course, there are many dos and don’ts and tips in engaging in social media campaigns.
Social media has indeed evolved through the years. The founders could not have projected that it would be utilized for purposes greater than for social networking, sharing of updates, photos, videos, music, movies, and existential ruminations.
But the crisis, worsening poverty and social inequities, and impunity in the violation of the people’s rights – economic, social, cultural and political – have pushed people to utilize all avenues and platforms for advocacies and effecting change. And with more and more people getting connected, spending a lot of time online, and accessing information from social media, it really is an effective platform to reach out to people. The challenge is to get them involved, to motivate them to act, and to organize them both online and offline.