IGF 2020 WS #129 The Revolution won't be Televised, but Social Mediatised?

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Author:
Mili Semlani and Andrijana Gavrilović

The session, hosted by European Schoolnet in Brussels, discussed the power of social media and how individual users or groups use social media platforms to influence and shape the public opinion of users and their followers.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a poem and a song made in 1969. Its title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s black power movement in the United States. The poem offered a pointy critique of the relationship between the media and the reality of change and revolution taking place in the streets and the campuses in America.

The influence of television even in the digital age is huge, as televised media has almost everywhere been into the hands of the people in power. The big question of today is whether everything changed with the rise of social media, or people still live in bubbles, perhaps without even knowing it.

Social media networks have reshaped the Internet and provided opportunities for everyone to showcase themselves freely. However, people are also exposed only to what their ’friends’ choose to share, and if that content is valuable, it will be spread further through networks of friends.

Moreover, activities on social media platforms such as Facebook are considered the major sensor of public opinion. Hence, social media networks are considered a bullhorn that can reach many people through shared space on an unlimited scale.

However, the question is to what extent are the Internet and social media supporting or hindering activism in the offline reality?

On behalf of IGF 2020 host country Poland, Ms Magdalena Duszyńska (Student, University of Wrocław, Department of Social Sciences and Humanities, Civil Society) shared her experience of how social media hashtags have recently led to a mass gathering in Poland regarding the issue of abortion. Hashtags are used to call for action, call for movement, but also sell ideas and/or gain commercial benefit. That made her question the ethics of social media and hashtags. Ms Jutta Croll (MAG member) said that social media is not a replacement for activism but a compliment to activism. Not all people join a movement after they see it on social media, but they may share the video and spread the message of what has happened.

’All we know about the world and about the society we know through the mass media’ wrote Niklas Luhmann in ‘The Reality of Mass Media.’ Today, this sentence could be rewritten to state that all we know about the world and about the society we know through social media, said Mr Ricardo Campos (Director, Legal Grounds for Privacy Design LGPD)). Over the past 10 years, the offline and the online world came together, be it banking, shopping or education. However, the offline world is still important for bringing about social movements,’ said Campos.

Ms Anastasiya Dzyakava (Adviser on Children Online Safety, Office of the Vice-Prime-Minister/Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine) pointed out that children are also widely impacted by social media. Researching for her book on online safety for parents and children, she found that most children are upset if they get less than 100 likes on their photos.

Children are often misled by what they see on social networks and forget that these are just the illusion of reality that other users would like to portray. It affects children's self-esteem and their friendships. She welcomed the experiment on Facebook and Instagram in Australia, where the number of likes was removed.

However, social media is not just Facebook and the like. There are many types of social media, extending to gaming and other areas. From images to video, and now live streaming, a decade ago this would have been almost inconceivable. In 2009, the idea of news feed was relatively new and one of the reasons why Facebook was so popular in the early stages was that it really harboured a sense of authentic profile, said Mr David Miles (Head of Safety, Facebook). The challenge Facebook faces today is to strike a balance between freedom of expression, privacy, and safety.

Facebook is co-designing a guide for the youth and is working with the youth around the globe on how to protect themselves online. Miles said he is convinced young people will play a big role in shaping social media. Dzyakava also reiterated this point. Children can become more aware of the safety and dangers of technology overuse if technology is introduced to schools earlier. Peer education and technology development training can also help young people understand technology better.

While the revolution is certainly social mediatised, is it really democratised? It may seem so, but there is a long way to go.