A few years ago I wrote a story about e-protesting and how it would never have the same effect as people in the streets. I waxed poetic on the time-honored tradition of Americans piling into the streets toting signs with catchy slogans. I interviewed an activist from the era of Vietnam protests who swore kids today have no clue how to effect change on a national level.
Change doesn’t come from sitting in front of a monitor and clicking a mouse button. However watching social media, and its effectiveness, the past year has proven one thing for sure – I was wrong.
I was so very wrong, but I didn’t know how wrong until the world exploded through my monitor.
Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have created a means of communication that only the nerds who gave us the Internet could have dreamed up. The evolution of that communication is fascinating. It led to changes in business practices, national policies and toppling dictators, and that’s just in the past year.
The year 2011 was dubbed the Arab Spring. Uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa changed the political landscape of the region. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya all fought to oust dictators by organizing through social media sites. The people used the Web to promote their causes.
In countries where news was government controlled, the people used cell phones and social networking sites to let the world see what was happening. I was watching major revolutions following hash tags posted on the other side of the globe.
While the Western citizens weren’t overthrowing governments, the people were using social media to organize protests and influence change on many different levels.
When Bank of America considered adding a five dollar monthly fee for customers using their bank card, consumers took to the Web to organize and lobby against the mammoth financial institution. The protests ranged from electronic petition signing to moving funds to local credit unions.
The Web uprising changed the minds of the suits at Bank of America, several other financial institutions and consumer service corporations. I read multiple stories about fees being taken off the table after signing the petition against BofA.
This was just one foreground protest of some of the largest live protests I’ve seen in the United States in my life.
Occupy Wall Street began in the fall in New York City. Its inception and implementation all made possible through social media Web sites. Thousands of people joined in NYC and then the movement exploded, first across the nation and then globally.
I could Google or Twitter “#Occupy” just about anything and come up with people using social media to plan meetings and protests, or just making jokes. Between cell phones, GUI overlays and instant access, people had been enabled to occupy the attention of the world by coming together in some of the largest coordinated efforts seen in the history of communication.
The personal computer and I were introduced to the world the same year, but I could never have imagined this kind of change from the first Web communications I remember using. Perhaps that’s why it was so hard for me to see it two years ago.
These days I’m a part of it. My Facebook, Twitter and blog followings all keep me up to date on the latest petitions and protests against “the man” and social injustice.
Just the other day president Obama told the nation he would veto what many Web users consider an Internet censorship bill. This came just a few days after users, providers and social networking sites used the Web to ramp up protests via all those same outlets.
People all around the world are using electronic media to create change at many different levels in society. I see it not only working, but as breathtaking to watch.