Five ways social media is changing the world – dramatically

Social media is radically altering the way global audiences look at any number of issues in the political, economic or entertainment spheres. Here’s five examples:

  • Number One: US audiences – meet the Palestinians

The only face Palestinians had in previous conflicts or uprisings was half hidden by a scarf and a rock about to be hurled  at Israeli forces. For US audiences, the intifadas of the 80s and 90s were characterised as mad, young Arab guys hurling rocks in a nihilistic confrontation against the Jewish state of Israel. Then along came Twitter and smartphone ownership – which has increased tenfold since the last Gaza uprising. And learning from the war in Syria and protests in Egypt – Palestinians are posting almost live videos of the action on the ground and the human stories of suffering. As the New York magazine reported, this has brought Palestinian narratives into American homes and forced TV networks like NBC and ABC to report two sides to this story.

  • Number Two: Hashtags can be hijacked

There was a time in social media – about a year ago – when PR companies would have advised their client to come up with a great hashtag that would spark debate and positive vibes around their brand. Trouble is, tweeters don’t always play ball. Pity the New York Police Department which came up with #myNYPD hoping it would generate lots of cuddly images of cops and the public. Did it ever. This video shows you what it did generate:

  • Number Three: Pop charts go digital

BBC Four has been repeating editions of Top of the Pops from 1979 this year – 35 years later. It was all so simple back then. You liked Elvis Costello so you went to your local record shop and bought the latest single. That was then added to all the other singles bought that week to determine if Mr Costello would be number one. Life ain’t that simple anymore. From this year, as The Guardian reported – streaming downloads from sites like Spotify will be included. I honestly can’t remember the last time I touched or looked at a CD so it all makes perfect sense to yours truly. And to encourage tracks up the chart or to share new sounds, teens are using Twitter – and bands are promoting the hell out of themselves on YouTube. It’s a far cry from Tony Blackburn.

  • Number Four: UKIP lost the youth on Twitter

He may be the toast of every golf club and Essex ranch house – but Nigel Farage wasn’t getting it all his own way on Twitter this year. Young, urban, metropolitan, smart, cosmopolitans took the pee out of UKIP and exposed their lunatic fringe. Any candidate who’d once said something flaky about gays or ethnic minorities had their past words aired on the medium. And when the party hoped that #WhyImVotingUKIP would generate some positive coverage, they got this:

UKIP hashtag

UKIP hashtag goes badly wrong

  • Number Five: Authoritarians struggle to control the beast

Vladimir Putin signed a bill this month ordering internet companies to store personal data on Russian users in data centres based in Russia. My, my – whatever could the former KGB boss have in mind? Well, that data would then be subject to Russian laws allowing…government access. The Kremlin assured any nervous tweeters that they just wanted to improve the management of this data.

Just like the new requirement for bloggers with over 3,000 followers to register as “media” and the jail terms for tweeters who retweet “offensive” information are just kindly old Vladimir looking after his people. He’s probably not best enamoured right now with social media after the loud online campaign to release the dissident pop band Pussy Riot. As Russia Today reported this month, Russian diplomat Vitaly Churkin attempted to chide the US envoy to the UN Samantha Power for meeting two members of Pussy Riot. He quipped if she was going to organise their next tour. Power took to Twitter to slap Churkin down saying she’d be delighted to join them provided their first gig was in support of Russian political prisoners.

Putin will probably have as little luck as Saudi Arabia and Turkey have done in caging the social media beast. However, his actions will cause some grief in the short term. And I suppose that’s mission accomplished for Putin.



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