“If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world.” Mark Zuckerberg 2010
The opening quote is from a book titled The Facebook Effect: The inside story of the company that is connecting the world. With the exponential growth of new media and the majority of the population connected through the internet, social media networking sites particularly Facebook are rapidly becoming a vast Global Society in and of itself.
In July 2010 Facebook had over 500 million users (Chalkley) including 35.3 percent of the American population (Kirkpatrick). By October 2012 Facebook reached the one billion user mark. Facebook users make up one seventh of the world’s population. This portion of the world’s population now shares everything from private moments to videos of political protest crackdowns. These videos are often shared moments after they were uploaded to YouTube. This new media platform in the form of a social network is a large force, possibly even a global society on its own that surpasses geo-political boundaries
Facebook is currently used by many politicians throughout the world to reach constituents in order to further their cause. Take the 2008 U.S. election as an example. “This was the first election where all the candidates – presidential and congressional – attempted to connect directly with American voters via online social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. (It has even been called the “Facebook election”) It is no coincidence that one of Obama’s key strategists was 24-year-old Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder.” (Frasser & Dutta) Statistics showed “Obama had more than 2 million American supporters on Facebook; McCain, just over 600,000. On the microblogging platform Twitter, Obama could count on more than 112,000 supporters “tweeting” to get him elected. McCain, for his part, had only 4,600 followers on Twitter.” (Frasser & Dutta). With Obama garnering 70% of the youth vote in this election it became clear that not only is Facebook a virtual social hangout but a one that has the power to swing world politics. The Obama administration is currently using Facebook successfully as a tool to get Americans registered for healthcare under the Affordable Healthcare Act. The use of Facebook to advance political causes is not just a U.S. phenomenon but a global one. Finland used new media platforms for citizen input on legislation. The people of Ukraine live streamed the electoral fraud that led to the current political turmoil that is widely said to be the most tense political moment in eastern European politics since the cold war.
We live in a time where Baudrillard’s explanation of hyper-reality is the new reality. Baudrillard describes hyper-reality as reality imitating reality. He further explains that “Hyper-reality is more than just exaggerated media images. It’s a process, whereby emphasized or accumulated media is accepted as a true reflection of reality and behaviors are affected as a result.” (Chaukley) The dissemination of world news to the masses in almost real-time and the constant sharing of that news is what makes hyper-reality the new reality. In turn, this makes it difficult for governments to scramble and put spins on many incidents. Many people get and share much of their daily news from Facebook news feeds. Globally shared news from whistle-blower sites and groups, such as Wikileaks and Anonymous, tend to force governments and societies to become ever more transparent and accountable.
Through these mediums of global social connection the public is becoming increasingly educated and aware of social issues which often lead to discussion, organization and action. There are prominent examples of how social media has fueled the fire of social change. For example in Colombia a man who was fed up with the atrocities committed by the guerrilla group FARC created the Facebook group, One Million Voices Against FARC. The group called for the end of FARC. They organized a protest march which at first was local but with a little member pressure actually turned global.(Add to previous paragraph)“What ensued was one of the most extraordinary examples of digitally fueled activism the world has ever seen. On February 4, about 10 million people marched against FARC in hundreds of cities in Colombia according to Colombian press estimates. As many as 2 million more marched in cities around the world. The movement that began with an impassioned midnight Facebook post in one frustrated young man’s bedroom led to one of the largest demonstrations ever, anywhere in the world”. (Kirkpatrick)
This Facebook organized movement was seen as instrumental in the high profile release of hostages such as Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician, former senator and anti-corruption activist. She and other hostages were held in the jungles of Colombia for years. In addition, the group is widely considered as instrumental in the loss of popularity and the power of FARC.
Facebook was also instrumental in the 2009 elections in Iran. It gave a platform and voice to the moderates. As a result of the disputed election results, protesters were called to the streets using Facebook. Videos capturing the civil unrest were uploaded and spread world-wide via Facebook. The Iranian government tried unsuccessfully to censor the use of Facebook during this tumultuous period. In the spring of 2011 the world was rocked by the “Arab Spring” uprisings. “The Arab Spring is a term for the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests (both non-violent and violent), riots and civil wars in the Arab world that began on the 18th of December 2010. By December 2013, rulers had been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt (twice), Libya, and Yemen; civil uprisings had erupted in Bahrain and Syria; major protests had broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan; and minor protests had occurred in Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Western Sahara, and the Palestinian territories.” (Wikipedia) Social media, particularly Facebook, was and is highly instrumental as both an organizational and a communication platform for protest and revolutionary organizers. The government of Egypt rapidly tried, somewhat successfully to shut down the internet to debilitate the opposition. “Nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians responded to a poll that they used Facebook to organize protests and spread awareness. Furthermore, 28% of Egyptians and 29% of Tunisians from the same poll said that blocking Facebook greatly hindered and/or disrupted communication.” (Wikipedia) The current Syrian conflict that has evolved out of the Arab Spring uprisings is now widely regarded as a regional conflict involving Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey as well as many radical Islamic factions making up the various rebel groups. These Rebel Groups have been documented to use Facebook to share combat tactics, coordinate efforts and spread their own propaganda.
Using the Arab Spring as an example and motivation the 99% anti-Wall Street movement used Facebook and twitter to share information and mobilize people worldwide to fight against the increasing control that mega-corporations and the mega-rich exert over the lives of the global populace. During this anti-Wall Street movement Facebook news feeds were populated with images and videos showing heavy handed police tactics used against demonstrators worldwide. Once again this information was shared in near real-time with real world consequences such as certain police officers ending careers as well as investigations into tactics. This intensive sharing of information has led to further protests as well as some government concessions. Even my own news feed is populated with posts regarding things such as “Marches against Monsanto” and the sustainable, local, organic food movement that I do not see covered in the mainstream media and would be unaware of if I were not a Facebook user.
The immense political power of social media has not escaped the attention of governments in power. As stated above Iran and Egypt, both to varying degrees of success, tried to limit citizen exposure to the internet and social media platforms. They also monitored online activist’s sites and posts in order to glean information and crackdown on dissent. Even our supposedly free and open society here in the United States has been reported to mine data from many of these websites through the NSA’s PRISM software. Although Companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple and Twitter deny providing unimpeded government access to users, a recent scathing report points out that a ”horrified” career intelligence office has provided slides detailing a secret US government spying program in which the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI allegedly have direct access to the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.” “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the anonymous intelligence officer told the Post.” (Mimms) Recent revelations from both WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden revealed that the governments prying eyes go deep. And with a global social platform of over 1 billion users, it looks like they have reason for concern.
Mark Zuckerberg, widely credited with the creation of Facebook and the CEO said “the world should be governed by people. A lot of that stuff has really shaped me. And this is a lot of what Facebook is pushing for.” I tend to agree. I have 329 “friends” on my Facebook account. Some are acquaintances, some family and many are friends. I know all of them personally except two. Some of these friends have as low as 58 other friends and some upwards of a 1000. Using basic logic it easy to see how all 1 billion users on Facebook could be connected to everyone’s posts eventually through viral sharing. It is also easy to see that we have rapid access to vast amounts of information like never before in the history of mankind. Needless to say, Facebook is not the only new media platform that creates the opportunity for the fast sharing of information. There is twitter, YouTube, Google, Yahoo, etc. But Facebook is in-arguably the largest and most looked at out of them all at this current time. With so many people sharing news, ideas, using it as a marketing platform and even a tool for political organization and activism it is easy to see that Facebook has rapidly become a society of its own. Facebook is a society that is global, and bridges language, culture, religious and geographic barriers. I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind. I especially believe in the collective goodness of 1 billion people. As evidenced with the events described above that have unfolded across the globe in the last eight years or so, Facebook is the new medium that is indeed bringing the world together in an unprecedented scale. This platform, in essence, is governed by the people and the masses. It is a virtual society whose rules and paradigms have the potential to shift society in a way that is beneficial for the collective good of the globe. This society is emerging at a time where the earth itself is under duress from the anthropogenic impacts of an exponentially growing population. We as humans are becoming hyperaware of our effects on the health of both the planet and society as a whole. I too believe that If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected will be a better world. With the ever growing membership of this society, positive corporate and government transparency, as well as change for the collective good is inevitable.