How social media is changing the world and saving lives. (written by Deprina L. Godboldo for FSCJ
I am not afraid to admit that I am always online. When I update my Facebook status, it is also sent out as a tweet, and then it is posted to my Tumblr page. When I post to my Instagram it is then tweeted, sent to my Tumblr and Facebook. When I post blogs or post a video on Youtube it is conjointly sent to all my social profiles. Social media has become more than just a pit of over shared pictures of cats and “what on your mind” status updates. Social media plays a massive role in the future of information conflicts. The article, by Brett Van Niekirk, explains the impact that social media has had on worldwide conflicts, disturbances, and political issues. You will begin to understand that there maybe a lot of advantages of having a social media platform like Facebook and Twitter. Although, excess amounts of information may oppose security issues when it involves the military.
The main topic explains that social media has had such a huge impact on the world that governments have felt the need to step in and change laws because of political uprisings and protest. The Iranian election, the uprising in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 were an aftermath of social media. Some countries have changed governments, like in the Philippines in 2003, where SMS demonstrations were organized. Although SMS, is not considered a social media platform it is a form of a social communication program that has had the same effects. Social media and related technologies have proved to be effective tools in advocacy and emergency communications (van Niekerk, 2013). When the Tsunami of 2004 happened in the Indian Ocean they were able to raise funds in a matter of time to help the victims. In 2011, Japan had a life-changing earthquake and Tsunami in the same year and over 1200 Twitter messages were sent out every hour on the hour, which saved a lot of lives because it created a digital map of where survivors were. Twitter combined with Google Maps has been used in many countries for natural disasters and tracking political violence. The argument is leaning towards the negative role that social media plays being that it can be used to encourage violence and disorder, such as riots in Greece and England (van Neikerk, 2013). These may seem to be positive but the issue being discussed throughout the article relate to this information creating conflict than solving it.
Let’s think for a second what would happen if we didn’t have social media to spark this debate. Would the riots and uprisings still occur? Would there still be people stuck without aid in the Tsunami that happened in Japan? You have to think that at some point all of the information sharing and communicating has to create an unpleasant conflict. The author describes it as an information warfare concept for both a military and civilian context. Information warfare is defined as “all actions taken to defend the military’s information-based processes, information systems, and communications network and to destroy, neutralize or exploit the enemy’s similar capabilities within the physical, information and cognitive domains”(van Neikerk, 2013). This concept can also be adapted for social, corporate and personal means. One good example that was used to prove this argument was a situation that happened in the 1994 Zapatista campaigns in Mexico. This was a movement that took its struggle online and they created a large-scale civil disturbance that did more harm than good. “These social disturbances initiated through social media are a form of psychological operations or influence operations, where the instigators attempt to sway the perception of the general population”(van Neikerk, 2013) to make them want to go against the government. You can see how the government may have an issue with that. This can be considered a form of control warfare. Another good example may be the police shooting in Greece that happen back in 2008 when social media helped to put together demonstration and get support from other countries. This raised concerns from the government in Greece. The “Twitter revolution” was started in Moldova and Iran because of claims of voter fraud and the government started using social media as its main source of communicating outside the country(van Neikerk, 2013). During this time, the US government even requested that Twitter delay its scheduled maintenance just so they could monitor what was going on over there and make sure that a huge war didn’t break out over it. This example shows that there is a back and forth with the government and social media. They either want to monitor it so they can know what is going at all times or they want to block it all together to prevent other people from being informed or creating advocate groups.
The biggest piece of evidence that can support the author’s argument was what became known as the Arab Spring. Tunisia and Egypt had a change in government because of massive demonstrations that were organized by the spread of this “revolution fever”. One major result was a civil war that started in Libya and continued in Syria (van Neikerk, 2013). When so much information about an unjust situation can be shared to other people, and they also disagree these protest and wars happen. The Tunisian authorities attempted to break into the Facebook accounts of suspected instigators to try and shut them up. The Egyptian authorities instituted a full-scale blackout of all of the Internet and mobile services (van Neikerk, 2013). I would assume they had no concern for emergency services or families keeping in contact with each other during this time because they just decided to cut their citizens off from the rest of the world. When you become a problem to the government they will see you as a threat. This is where information becomes a conflict.
We can see that it doesn’t take the authorities in other countries long before they decide how to defuse a situation but when it comes to being in America you can’t just disconnect services and block social media accounts of everyone just to stop one group. WikiLeaks was responsible for releasing secret documents about certain situations that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S government partnered with financial institutions and social media websites to freeze WikiLeaks accounts and deny them any type of online services. This gave life to the group Anonymous that tried to fight back on behalf of WikiLeaks. This can be considered as a form of cyber warfare. The WikiLeaks case is significant because it shows us that online activity that provides information via social media can result in an even more aggressive online response in the form of denial-of-service attacks, which relate to network warfare (van Neikerk, 2013). I’m sure that the government would like it much better if people just stuck to their own opinions instead of getting online and banding together to create even worse situations. Some of the five freedoms that we do have is the right to assembly and petition. If the author claims that having too much information creates a conflict, then he is correct and has proven it well.
In conclusion, the general idea of this article was to discuss some situations that social media has had and impact on over the past 10 years. When cellphones first become popular and SMS messages were the quickest way to communicate, of course only if you had the other person’s number. Then there was the birth of Facebook and Twitter, which allow you to post and read messages that could read all over the world by anyone one. Hash tags made your message global and trending. With all the positivity that can come from social media the author voiced his concerns about it being too much sharing and how it could be a bad thing. At what point does information become conflict? When wars are started, when the government has to block your social media accounts and hacktivist groups are creating uprisings online, this is when sharing turns into conflict. Real life situations and the civil war the happen in Syria are perfect examples that prove the author’s theory. There will not be a balance and every new piece of software or future social media platform will be a threat to governments globally. It allows people of all races, cultures and languages to unite on one common topic and do what they can to create change.
Van NieKerk, Brett. (2013). Social Media and Information Conflict. International Journal of Communication, 7, 1162-1184.