While browsing CNN.com, one of my favorite websites, I ran across an article entitled “When social media ‘hinders’ revolution”. The article basically states that, although social media websites have been integral in revolutions/uprisings around the globe as of late (Arab spring, UK riots, etc.), they may also be keeping their users from meeting face-to-face and effecting real change. Quoted in the article, Navid Hassanpour, a Yale grad student, had this to say: “Social media can act against grass roots mobilization,” he writes. “They discourage face-to-face communication and mass presence in the streets. Similar to more traditional and highly visible media, they create greater awareness of risks involved in protests, which in turn can discourage people from taking part in demonstrations.” Others quoted in the article also argue that social media discourages meetings because, once you are up to date on what someone is doing via social media sites, you may not feel the need to actually catch up with them in person.
Although I totally get their points, I think the revolutionary events of the last couple of years is proof positive that, when it comes to big political demonstrations or responses to social injustice, social media sites have in fact prompted those who would not have necessarily organized before, to take action. It also offers a broader reach than other traditional methods of organization. Now one can get thousands of people to converge on one location at the same time by posting one comment, where before people were limited by their resources (you can only hang as many flyers as you physically have).
On a smaller more personal scale, sites like Twitter and Facebook each serve as a medium to get smaller groups of friends or people with like interests together. For example, in the C-Span interview with Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, Biz references a tweet that solidified in his mind that Twitter would indeed be a force to be reckoned with. He recalled a time when a man at an overly-loud bar tweeted to his friends that they should all leave and converge on another bar down the street. He did this because he was physically unable to speak to the people in his group due to the volume in the establishment. Within 8 mins of having tweeted this message, the bar that he had suggested was swamped by hundreds of people who had either received his original tweet or viewed re-tweets of his original message. This became the first official “Tweet-up”, or meeting of Twitter friends offline.
On an even more personal scale, I am a bridesmaid in a wedding in Ghana, Africa at the end of this year. I found about my friend’s wedding plans on Facebook when some of her other friends were posting on her wall. Distressed about not having been invited to the soiree, I promptly sent her an email professing my sadness at not being included. Laughing-out-loud, she referred me to my Facebook messages inbox where I discovered a “Save-the-Date” note about the wedding. Since then, I have sent her my measurements via Facebook and discussed plans with her via Skype (She lives in London). I am also able to chat with her other bridesmaids to commiserate on flights, lodging, gift ideas, etc. Voila! A grand-scale meeting planned on a social-networking site! The future of the internet is integrating the virtual world more into the physical world. What could be a more fitting example of that?
Although it may be impossible to find accurate statistics on how many meetings of a social or business nature are organized on social media sites, one can only deduce that these meetings happen all day, every day.
In your face Navid!