ICT and Social Media: New Forms of Expression and Democratic Participation
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Digital culture has brought up new mediated communication patterns and practices through ICT. And it continues to alter digital culture, which in turn shapes human communication. Indeed, as Hopper (2007) points out, ICT and digital media are the catalyst for contemporary communication, and their advance constitutes a transformation in human communication. As a recent wave of media for social communication, social media has drastically changed the landscape of mediated communication, in particular its role in social and cultural processes and its significance in society.
Social media offer new and appealing possibilities to people to express themselves in a variety of ways and freely participate in major events, because they are more decentralized and less hierarchical and based on democratic structures. Social media platforms allow users to interact and collaborate with each other as creators of user-generated content, exploiting different tools, interfaces, software, and storage facilities to add value. There are many intuitive benefits for the use of social media technologies. They offer a means for self-mass communication that may have previously been restricted by temporal or spatial constraints. They provide scale and are capable of reaching a global audience. According to Castells (2009), self-mass communication reaches a potentially global audience through the Internet and is moreover self-generated in the production of content, self-directed in the definition of potential receivers, and self-selected in the retrieval of content by many who communicate with many. With the ubiquity of the (influential) resources and the potential for communicating messages to massive, global audiences, social media technologies may be seen as an important, instrumental resource for social change. Social media make it possible for an average user to archive, create, change, circulate, and share digital content and knowledge, i.e. websites, blogs, films, video clips, pictures, etc. with other users in powerful new ways. Audiences have the power in their own hands to transform their personal social networks by connecting and developing intimate bonds with unfamiliar people (Kaplan & Blakley 2009). Further, by their very nature, social media are characterized by multiple points of production and distribution. They are accessible to enable individual and media actors to publish (produce) or access (consume) information in equal terms. The means of social media production are available to the public. Adding to this is that for social media technologies are simple to use and accessible to people with minimal technical skills, anyone with access can operate such means, as well as alter content instantaneously. The notion of user-generated content constitutes a new canon that is reshaping power relations between individuals and media actors. Users can exercise some control over the information they provide on Web 2.0 (social media) sites (Hinchcliffe 2006; O’Reilly 2005). Audiences understand that they have the power in their own hands to produce and monetize their own intellectual property (Kaplan & Blakley 2009). In all, individuals are no longer stochastically at the outer borders of media production and distribution. As Jenkins et al. (2005, p.10) note, ‘we are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media, toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced.’ The above features corroborate why social media have changed the notion of communication in many ways and at different levels. Kietzmann et al. (2011, p. 250) contend that ‘social media introduce substantial and pervasive changes to communication between individuals communities, and organizations.’ Social media culture is about people empowerment: how they aspire to use technology and the effect they expect this will have on their life. They also reflect participatory culture in the sense that people, ‘believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another.’ (Jenkins et al. 2005).
In addition, social media play a key role in promoting democratic participation and generating well informed pluralist society. Much of the hope pinned on social media stems from their potential use for political change purposes. Via social media platforms it has become possible for citizens to address and discuss a diverse range of public affairs and to self-propel ‘public will mobilization’ (Salmon, Fernandez and Post 2010) against their governments at relatively low transaction costs. Today’s audiences are aware that they have the power in their own hands to organize on behalf of political candidates and causes (Kaplan & Blakley 2009). This has been instrumental in shaping and catalyzing social changes driven by democratic participation in public spheres. It is about what Jakubowicz (2007, p. 137) describes as, the ‘appearance of alternative and opposition public spheres.’ This unprecedented decentralization of information and communication brought by social media has empowered citizens and enabled marginalized people to express themselves by utilizing independent channels to voice their opinions and take part directly or indirectly in social changes. However, this situation has brought up extra subject of discussions, whether independent channels can outlive themselves in this digital dependency and how citizen media can meet the Web 2.0 social media revolution.