Monday 31 March 2014

Social Media and Being a Global Citizen Everyday

Yesterday, at the Auckland Model United Nations conference, I gave a presentation to 250-ish high school students about how to use social media for more than selfies and taking photos of food. The point was that we can use social media for more than just being teenagers; we can use it to create tangible good and affect change in the real world.

Think about how difficult it once was to get a message from one side of the world to the other. Before the 1500s, it was basically impossible. Then we had boats, and it would take a couple of months. Then we got planes, and it would take a few days. Then we got telegraphs, and it could be sent in minutes. Now we have Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Wikipedia, Tumblr, if you're overseas you might have QQ, Tuenti, or Naver, for the (slightly) older ones that might have used MySpace or Bebo, and if you're an employee of Google you might use Google+.

We are the social media generation, we are the ones using these channels every day. We have our own way of communicating through these channels, and when we say ROFL or YOLO or "I literally just can't even" it just doesn't mean anything to a large segment of the older population. We want to talk to each other instantly, we want to share our messages with singles and also with many at once, and we want to grow and develop as human beings together. This video summaries just how mind boggling the growth of social media has been.

Here in New Zealand, there is a massive slant in social media usage towards youth, but the older generation is catching up, and the social media landscape is changing.

Society is moving away from consumption to co-creation. Back in 1909, when Henry Ford was making the Model T, black was the quickest drying paint so he said "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." Customers didn't have choices; they had to buy what was made available to them. Customers didn't have information; they didn't know about alternative products or substitutes. Customers didn't have courage; they were afraid to kick up too much of a fuss with corporations, for both rational and irrational reasons.

But today, customers are king - Nike lets you design your own shoes, Dell lets you build your own computer, Coca-cola lets you design their marketing campaigns for them. Politics is catching up, and it's changing too as more people become more informed. You can @mention an MP and get a response within a few hours. A public policy announcement can be made and people are reacting within seconds. Within a day, tweets, blogs, videos, have been produced and there’s more content generated about the issue that you can absorb. This is something people couldn’t have dreamed about in the past.

Journalists are tweeting about their breaking news before they do the proper write-up. 50% of people hear breaking news via social media rather than official news sources now. If being a politician wasn’t hard enough, now they have to satisfy the instantaneous social media generation and their insatiable need for answers right now. Politics as usual just won’t cut it, and if we want to maintain a meaningful democracy then politics will have to change.

Back in 2001, perhaps the first example of social media creating very large scale political change happened in the Philippines. President Joseph Estrada was facing allegations of corruption, but loyalists in the Congress set aside key evidence. "GO 2 EDSA. Wear Blk" was the text message that was sent more than 7 million times in one week, causing 1 million protesters to flood into Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. The protesting was so massive and so rapid that Estrada resigned three days later, blaming the "text-messaging generation" for his downfall.

Fast forward ten years and we see the undeniable role that social media played in the Arab Spring. In 2011, governments were overthrown in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, with civil war and major protests in at least ten other countries (map from Wikipedia).

“During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks resignation, … the total rate of tweets … about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day.  Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral – the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views [in a day].” – University of Washington

“90% of Egyptian and Tunisian protesters said they used Facebook to organise protests and spread awareness.” - Dubai School of Government

“We use Facebook to schedule the protests, we use Twitter to co-ordinate, and we use Youtube to tell the world.” – Activist in Egypt

So social media is an amplifier - it spreads messages faster and to more people. The protest is moving online - people are expressing their views online and directly to decision makers. Some protests still happen in person, but more and more effective change is being achieved through online means. Importantly, the agenda is increasingly falling out of the control of the media industry - just like people had to accept what corporations sold them, they used to have to accept what the media fed them. Now, the research shows that 60% of people think it's easier to keep up with news today than five years ago, and that is thanks to a massive rise in news consumption from mobile devices rather than more traditional TV, radio, and newspapers. That leads to a more informed constituency, one that is better able to make informed decisions.

“In the past, media provided a filter. If something was on the front page or the evening news, it was considered important. If not, it wasn’t. Yet today, anyone can broadcast—whether it be a distraught mother or a crusading journalist. Nobody needs to ask for permission, even in a corrupt, authoritarian country.” – Greg Satell, Forbes

So we can use social media for good, to have our voices heard, to reveal injustices, and to affect real change in our communities. But what does it mean to be a global citizen?

For me, two quotes sum up the meaning of being a global citizen:
“Things stay the same until something makes them change.”
Things don't get better by themselves.
“Turning good intentions into positive action” – Bill Clinton
It's not enough to just think about it, you have to do something to make things better. We live in an increasingly global society, and we are all citizens of this global society, and we all have a responsibility to make the society the best place we can possibly live in.

But... how do we cut through the noise? Everyone is shouting on social media at once, and there are a million problems that all need attention. There are three common issues:

The 24 hour news cycle - we have to maintain people's engagement on issues. Was the Roast Busters issue ever resolved? Is Novopay fixed? They're stories that have fallen out of the media and out of the mind of the general public because people lose track and lose interest.

Building a respected image - people tend to listen to experts, and when someone who isn't an expert champions an issue either their message is ignored or they are ridiculed. Gareth Morgan might have a very valid point about the dangers of cats to native wildlife, but no one wants to hear it coming from an economist and investment manager.

Gaining the respect of the older generations - because they have the power. We're lucky in New Zealand because for the most part we have a forward-looking perspective but that is often not the case overseas. It can be very difficult to fight against established groups, whether it's because they see the danger and are actively suppressing dissent or because they dismiss social media as irrelevant.

So how can we be heard? We have to appreciate that not everything everyone says is heard, and also not everyone wants to listen. Communication is a two-way process; someone says something, but someone has to listen to it for that communication to be useful. So we have to try to strike a chord with our audience, and make them feel something. Say interesting things that make them want to come back for more. Build a following - chances are, someone else out there has the same views as you, and your power is in the numbers, so find them and work together to achieve your goals. Lastly, don't just shout - listen too.

Even if you don't want to generate content, whether it's because you're afraid or have no idea what to write about, the power of social media is in the amplification. Liking, favouriting, retweeting things that you read are the best way to spread messages that you agree with, and you don't have to say anything yourself if you don't want to. If you don't believe that social media can affect social change at all levels, have a watch of this next video.

So, some questions to think about:
- What image are you projecting online? How are others perceiving what you say?
- What power does one individual have, and how does that get amplified online? What power do YOU as an individual have?
- Can you do more than just being a teenager?

- What are your dreams? What do you care about? What are your passions?
- How can you use that to be a global citizen?

Everyone that is reading this probably knows how to use social media. You're a social media expert because you use it every day. So use it for something more than just posting statuses about how much homework you have or instagramming a photo of what you had for lunch.
Use it for good, use it for change, and use it to make the world a better place for all of us.

Lastly, a bit of comic relief:

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