Who can really be social on social media?

Much is being said about the sky-high success of Facebook, which is worth more than $100 billion and used by 1/8th of the world’s population. Twitter also recently reached 10 million UK users.

But have you ever really thought about the people who make up the communities on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter?

When Kony 2012 obtained almost 90 million views, who made up the audience? Does social media really reflect the seven billion (and rising) world population?

While we rejoice in the fact that we can connect with people across the globe in this cosy little (albeit big) cyber community and air our news and views, it is only accessible by those who have a computer, a smart phone or can afford to pay to use an internet café. The basic fact is, the poor and the illiterate are excluded in Facebook or Twitter communities, but by no fault of these social media giants; they can’t be blamed for being out of reach.

Maybe the idea is to start a platform where social media users share the voices of disadvantaged communities to be heard. But on the other hand, that would be filtered by our judgement as to which ‘voices’ are noteworthy – and newsworthy – and which are not. So is impartiality possible for a mediator? The ongoing Leveson Inquiry may demonstrate that the answer to this is obscure.

Majority without the minority

When we see online campaigns such as Kony 2012 go viral, or masses ‘liking’ a Facebook page or ‘following’ a Twitter profile, we are still a marginalised online society: the perceptions of the majority are promoted on Facebook and Twitter, not the minority, which may actually count for more.

What do the impoverished have to say? Do we know? More importantly, do we even care, or care enough?

What would those living in Mumbai’s Dharavi Slum – one of the largest slums in Asia – have to say about how India is run? What are the perceptions of the poor in the Middle East regarding the Syria unrest? Do they even know exactly what is going on? If we don’t even know their point of view, then, arguably, do we have the full picture? And don’t they have the right to tell the world what they really think?

So, what is the solution? Firstly, people obviously need the basic skills to be able to read and write. The next step should be, making the internet accessible for everyone; teaching people across the world how to use social media, how to blog, and giving free use of computers with internet access.

I know, it is far more complicated than it sounds and it’s a problem buried underneath a weight of other social problems that tip the scale. I cannot even pretend to know how this will even happen effectively. But every movement begins with a thought and recognition of what is missing and, more importantly, what is needed.

Video diaries

The promising news is that some organisations have already begun the groundwork that is needed. UNICEF sponsored a project called ‘Hello Video’ by Academy Award-nominated director Riri Reza and a team of young Indonesian filmmakers. The initiative taught children in the Meulaboh camp in Indonesia’s Aceh province the basics of video production, so they can document and share a chapter of their lives after surviving the deadly Tsunami of 2004 in a special screening.

The charity also partnered with the One Minute Foundation and carried out a similar project in India, called the One MinutesJr.  Youngsters aged 12-20 years old, especially from underprivileged backgrounds, were taught how to share their stories via film, developing youth empowerment and social change.

What is even more interesting is it has been proven that children learn to use computers more quickly than we may give them credit for. Professor Sugata Mitra installed a computer into the wall of his office that faced a slum in Delhi, India.

He soon discovered that in groups, poorly educated children were able to teach themselves and each other how to use the computers and even access the internet. His renowned ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments challenged the importance given to teacher supervision. So enabling access to technology may be simpler than we think.

Despite the controversies surrounding the harm that Facebook and Twitter can allegedly cause, social media gives one person a voice that can be heard amongst billions; seven billion and over, to be a bit more precise.

But the citizen of Citizen Journalism should begin to mean anyone and everyone, regardless of status. Only then will we know what the disadvantaged people of society have to say for themselves.

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