Enabled by ICT, social media are instrumental in and shaping and catalyzing social change for they allow for wide participation, continued flow of communication, and speed in public mobilization. In other words, their development has created opportunities to fuel social change through building awareness, triggering public will mobilization, encouraging civic engagement, sharing knowledge, etc. Hence, their role is indeed changing in social and political processes and their significance is increasing in society. While the mobilization of social media has become an instrumental approach for social change, their embrace and strategic use may further transform them into a driving force for major political changes, if their implementation is based on a constant adjustment of strategies to political and social context specific requirements. However, a theoretical framework is needed to advance a shared pursuit toward understanding the role of social media technologies for social change, as assessing their real impact on social change is still compounded by the lack of clear empirical evidence.
Furthermore, for they are decentralized and less hierarchical and based on democratic structures, social media offer new and appealing possibilities to people in terms of expression, collaboration and participation in powerful new ways. This is due to the advent of Web 2.0 technologies that has enabled users to create and exchange user-generated content. In relation to this, the so-called citizen media could be said to meet the Web 2.0 social media revolution, with some of related applications being in part an essential constituent to social media and others losing their dominance due to no adherence to the relevant principles and practices. As a key feature, social media provide scale and are capable of reaching a massive, global audience and are accessible to as well individual as media actors to produce or consume information in equal terms, as the means of social media production are available to the public. Thus, individuals are no longer stochastically at the outer borders of media production and distribution.
There is a need for new perspectives and novel insights into integrating technological with tacit, creative and non-technological knowledge. ICT has the potential to frame the role and operation of social media based on new socio-cultural dimensions of users. Innovations in the area of ICT should be inspired by how people aspire to use new ICT by accounting for the knowledge of the dynamics of how they interact in socio-cultural setting for various expressive and social purposes. The codified knowledge and the push philosophy of ICT alone are not sufficient to respond to the growing challenges of social media phenomenon. If driven by users’ demands and how social mediated interaction is unfolding, ICT can offer unsurpassed ways to facilitate and enhance mediated communication practices.
Social media technologies have also been used especially in creating less-confined political spaces (Eltantawy & Wiest 2011) that help foster democracy. However, the call for ‘Internet freedom’ that results from cyber-utopism view that regards the Internet as inherently pro-democratic is a dangerous one; a sound question is ‘how social media can be used to sideline existing strategies for democracy assistance in a given country and let the answer to that question shape their strategic choices.’ (Breuer 2011) In addition, ‘any serious debate on the promise of SDM to aid democracy promotion must consider that different types of SDM vary in their specific characteristics and that such variation translates into different opportunities and risks depending on the political context in which they are employed.’ (Ibid, p.1)
The use of social media moreover poses some issues, one of which is the ownership of social media content. User-generated-content, which is generated through social media interactions done by the users through social media platforms, is associated with privacy issues. The practice of encroachments upon users’ privacy, although unjustified, will continue in so far as it generates profit for firms. Critics argue that the firms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are reaping huge profit by using – having the right to monetize – the content that does not belong to them. It is about high pursuit of profit. Most social networking operators pursue commercial interests (Ibid). In relation to this argument, Tim Berners-Lee (2010) cautions against social networks growing too big and become a monopoly as this tends to limit innovation. The privacy threat beyond is the parasitic conveying or leaking of agglomerated (personal) data to third parties with certain economic interest (Soltren 2005). How to ensure that content can be shared to the extent the individual wishes and no more is not an easy question to answer. Firms are to be convinced to consider user privacy as a central part of their mission, and social media service providers ought not to expand business at the cost of their users’ privacy (Breuer 2011). There is an endless debate on the ownership of the content on social media platforms since it is generated by the users and hosted by the company.
There are still untapped opportunities and new zones to explore in ICT development. Innovative convergence of media services, usability in the design of social media applications, and advanced social network aggregation platforms are critical to encourage the use of social media with a wider class of users. Currently, most social networking sites are silos and do not allow users to port data from one site to another (Berners-Lee 2010). In terms of usability, the focus of Human-Computer-Interaction (HCI) research should shift from laboratories to real life settings where people would want to use and experience new technologies. Academic design studies of innovation highlight the importance of observing real people in real life situations and encourage approaches that make user participation an inseparable part of technology production (Kelley 2002). As a characteristic of the user interface, usability is concerned with the ease with which a user interface can be used by its target users to achieve defined goals, especially with satisfaction (fulfillment of user’s needs). New ICT solutions should enable people to convey meanings behind ideas, to stimulate creative expressions in culturally heterogeneous groups, to device tools that enable different classes of users to generate content and take part in social change processes, to enhance new media literacy of users, to augment user interfaces with visual information to improve the efficiency of communication and so on. It is very important for ICT and social media firms to constantly and collaboratively work with different classes of end users when designing new social media solutions. Social media presents a daunting challenge for firms due the fact that many established management approaches to deal with users wanting these firms to listen, appropriately engage, and respond are ill-suited (Kietzmann et al. 2011). Indeed, MySpace lost its members because of management mistake (Hartung 2011). Kietzmann et al. (2011) identify seven functional building blocks: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups, which have implications for how firms should engage with social media as well as help understand the engagement needs of the social media audience. The authors explain that firms can, by analyzing such building blocks, monitor and understand the variation underlying social media activities as to their function and impact, which is important to develop a congruent social media strategy based on the appropriate balance of these building blocks for their community.
It is undeniable that the upbringing of ICT has also caused incremental effects to development works in few decades. International development agencies are of the same opinion that ICTs can cost-effectively create and unleash the developmental force of human socio-economic and political networks (Rao 2005) although a sturdy subject is opposed in this essay to question how cost effective ICT could be if we compare the total cost with the total reach of digital users, which despondently are scattered in developed areas with sufficient technology infrastructure, causing the subsistence of digital divide (Granqvist 2005).
Irrefutably, ICT has transformed social media applications to major instruments in altering social change processes by generating two ways of communication pattern with a requirement of full participation from/to diverse users to produce elongated feedback without time and space boundaries. The process of social change is modified collectively with the acclamation of democratic, civic participation to endorse freedom and equality, transparency, accountability, and legitimacy. Enabled by ICT social media have become an important new resource for the successful organization of bottom-up, grassroots movements and leaderless collective actions. They have multiple roles in terms of organizing and implementing collective activities, promoting a sense of community, propelling public will mobilization, boosting civic engagement, enabling citizen journalism, raising public awareness, creating less-confined political spaces, rallying support for political causes (or publicizing causes to gain support from the global community) (Eltantawy & Wiest 2011; Khamis 2011) alternative (critical) public spheres, etc. This is due to their unsurpassed potential in enabling continued, dynamic flow of communication, speed in public mobilization, and new mediated communication patterns. Numerous scholars (e.g., Langman 2005; Della Porta & Mosca 2005; Wasserman 2007) have pointed to social media such as social-networking sites as being, collectively, a critical new resource for the successful organization and implementation of social movements (Eltantawy & Wiest 2011). However, could the process of social change, caused by ICT development, lead to a better state welfare is another subject that should be raised and to conform it will require not only many participatory disciples in promoting freedom and democracy and technology engineers to distribute equal digital access, but also more development doers that could transform the epitome of all to the real constituent benefit for citizens in terms of social welfare.
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The most common function of social media applications in development works is to build awareness through virtual campaign, fund raising, to mobilize collective resources for social change. Social media applications, such as text based blogs, internet forums, social networking sites, are used to assemble and deploy important resources into series of actions. They generate social interactions between its users to elevate awareness towards certain issue in development works and engage users in taking further action by providing more information about how to involve more actively.
Social media application is also being utilized to communicate organization’s values to the public, spreading the word about the vision and mission, how the organization works, why public should support them, and what is the achievement so far. Social media applications can buzz the intended message and at the same time build credibility by creating opportunity to obtain feedbacks from public while at the same time producing transparencies.
Knowledge collection & sharing is another imperative function of social media applications that holds essential role to disseminate useful information/content and create wide access to digital archieve. The main objective of content communities is the sharing of media content between users (Haenlein & Kaplan 2010). Social media applications could be employed in content management practice, where data is being collected and curated through crowd source ideas and shared collectively using online community. Participatory level is mandatory and it might generate challenge in providing relevance and useful contents that can be easily adopted by users, language standardization, and use of online content by key sectors (Rao 2005). Social media application can also reduce cost in obtaining knowledgeable data, especially for those living in remote areas.
From the aforementioned functions, social media applications could seize significant role in the reformation of social change practice, policy making, and democracy by using the manifestation of civil society function. The term of civil society, which encompasses the non state and non business sectors (Hintz 2007), has demonstrated a grown number of civil society based media which are recognized by its capability to challenge ownership, control, and organization (Ibid). Thus participation, emancipation, and empowerment represent its crucial features and probably it is the most democratic manifestation of social media applications based on user generated content (Haenlein & Kaplan 2010). Even though civil society media consent users to get actively involved in news production by allowing them to share skills and know-how by generating open source software and treating information/ knowledge not as intellectual property, issue of social media content ownership has been a protracted debate among digital villagers. Most social network sites still encompass content protection even though the material does not belong to them. Thus, an emphasize of collaborative project that facilitate simultaneous content creation, addition, and sharing by diverse users, supported by safeguarding credibility of content, should be set in accrual motion in order to promote joint effort of multiple users to generate not only interactivity among citizens but also productivity in knowledge and freedom of opinions.
 An example of this function is www.care2.com. It is a social network website which nurtures online community of people passionate about living a healthy, green lifestyle and impact the causes they care about the most.
 Example : @anticorruption, a Twitter account created by Transparency International (www.transparency.org), aimed to improve accountability among countries by taking actions to combat the devastating effects of corruption.
 Thorpe, Ian. (2011). 8 Uses for Social Media in Aid Work. Retrieved September 23, 2011 from http://kmonadollaraday.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/8-uses-for-social-media-in-aid-work/
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The central idea of Web 2.0 is synonymous to the term interactive (O’Reilly, 2005). In Web 2.0, everyone is invited to participate in contrast to its predecessor. With the advent of Web 2.0, consumers or individual citizens can participate in exploring, modifying, and sharing the contents that are being published to the public. This new structure has enhanced a participatory and a two-way approach, and together with the concept of User Generated Content the Web 2.0 has given rise to social media (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). As has been stated above, the concept of citizen media is ascribed to participatory of the citizen; therefore, it is relatively straightforward to assume that citizen media can meet the Web 2.0 social media revolution. The age of social media has affected the one-way practice of communication that we have been used to. News prints and journalists are dramatically fading away and being overtaken by local citizens (Hefferman, 2011). In fact, it has happened in numerous occasions that broadcast media outfits have used materials that has been produced by local citizens as resources in their own news. And many of the citizen-produced materials do not necessarily only cover news about catastrophe or war, but as well as contents that are personal or bearing the characteristics of inclusiveness of their viewers. The social media revolution empowers citizen media in many possible ways, and bringing the means of communication to a higher level. Consequently, our culture of communication has been changed making it possible for us to communicate without restraint, and this is made potential by the technology we have for information and communication.
Furthermore, while social media are increasingly utilized as a powerful means to promote social change, assessing the real impact of social media on social change is still compounded by the lack of clear empirical evidence. Scholars from several disciplines ‘have studied uses of social media in a range of social and political movements, but what seems to be missing is a theoretical framework that could… advance a shared pursuit toward understanding the role of these technologies for collective action. While…social media may be used as an effective and enduring resource for political and social change, its distinctive and sustaining features are not well understood.’ (Eltantawy & Wiest 2011) Nevertheless, understanding social media functions and the employment of its applications in many development projects could be regarded as another stepping stone to provide better empirical substantiation of it.
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The very core of social media is the citizen. Without the individuals who support and actively take part in the sharing of information or network building, the whole philosophy of social media will crumble. The term citizen (Dahlgren, 2009) signifies the notion of public, where interaction happens between individuals who are engaged in providing service and delivering help to other people in society. Through interaction and engagement of participants, democratic voices are and can be amplified by utilizing different medium of communication. And since social media foster participation, it does not necessarily follow the concept of mediascapes (Appadurai, 1996), an image-centered presentation of reality, where the place of the individual is at the receiving end (Kivikuru, 2005). One can easily imagine this through advertising and news feeds that we get from different institutions. However, the democratic citizens break away from that principle by actively giving and sharing with others instead of merely accepting what is being offered to them. Consequently, the conception of citizen media (Rodriguez, 2001) has brought us a fresh and clear understanding of how the citizens practice their citizenship through active intervention, challenging social norms, and community empowerment. These three facets mark the essence of a citizen, and all of them point to the principles of participatory, where people make the most of their authority to communicate what they think is best for them, and where they stop being passive consumers (Hintz, 2007) and start voicing out their ideas so that they can affect others in their community and together forge change in society.
The interplay between citizen media and social media can be understood on how the citizens develop the social media tools that are available for them whenever they mass communicate. Several millions of information exchange is continuously happening, and this is, as well, what we can call the downside of citizen media. Participating citizens are relentlessly on the look or in search for the truth; therefore, one can say that everyone is watching everyone. Citizen media succeeded in transcending an online social community, and it is this participatory role of the citizen when it comes to creating information that made the credibility of citizen media questionable (Rosenberry and St. John, 2010). There are many independent channels of citizen media, and not all of them are bound to survive. One example of this is MySpace. There are many speculations on why it has outlived itself and why its membership has plummeted. Some argues that it is because of the company’s high pursuit of profit (Bajarin, 2011), while others advocate that MySpace lost its prestige and members because of management mistake (Hartung, 2011). Whichever is the rationale behind MySpace’s downfall, the active citizens have decided to find another medium where they can maximize their influence and that is more fitting to their lifestyle. The concept ‘citizen media’ has not outlived itself; on the contrary it has become stronger. It has even brought out new players or channels in the arena. However, there is no guarantee that every player will survive.
image source : www.blog_amnestyusa.org
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.
Prior to understanding how ICT and social media are analyzed in relation to social change, it is first useful to briefly elucidate what ICT and social media entail and how they relate. ICT is used as a general term for diverse set of technologies which enable users to create, access, disseminate, store, manage, and communicate information in a digital format. ICT include computer hardware and software applications, encompassing: mobile phones, computers, network hardware, internet, telecommunication systems and so on, as well as the various related services and applications. In recent years there has been a groundswell of interest in how computers and internet can best be harnessed to improve social communication at different levels, which has propelled research and innovation in the area of ICT and social digital media (SDM), leading to the emergence of what has come to be known as participatory technologies such as Web 2.0.
As an emerging phenomenon, social media are media for social interaction. Their emergence was enabled by ubiquitously accessible communication technology, participatory technology, mobile technology and web-based applications. They amalgamate social interaction and technology for value co-creation, one corollary of which is user-generated content which takes a wide variety of forms: ideas, text, videos, pictures, and so on. Kaplan & Haenlein (2011) define social media as a set of internet-based applications build on the technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that enable user-generated content to be created and exchanged. Web 2.0’s participatory technologies facilitate information sharing, participation and collaboration. Indeed, one key element of Web 2.0 is the social Web, which involves a number of online platforms where people are active participants, pool resources and share their perspectives and experiences. This is enabled by the different forms social media can take on such as social networking sites, content communities, weblogs, social blogs, micro-blogging, collaborative projects, etc. It is to note that these forms of social media differ in terms of self-disclosure and media richness criteria, which media theory proposes to distinguish social media types. Media richness is about ‘the amount of information a medium can transmit within a given time, and self–disclosure, which ‘is critical in the establishment of interpersonal trust’, denotes ‘the desire of people to present a certain image of themselves to others, which is achieved through the disclosure of specific personal information.’ (Breuer 2011)
Overall, although ICT and social media are conceptually different, they are intertwined and inextricably connected. And they converge when mobilized as resources for or employed as means in social change, a process that entails altering social patterns of a society, which can involve economic development, political progress, cultural change, social revolution, etc.
ICT is increasingly recognized as the strongest change means humanity has to its disposal. In the recent years, advances in ICT have heralded a major transformation in human communication, giving rise to new trends of media for social communication. Situated as one of the latest of several waves of digital media, social media have introduced new communication patterns, diversified communication content and format, created new forms of expression, fostered freedom, and stimulated a wide participation which has widened the scope of knowledge sharing and collaboration and allowed citizens from diverse walks of life to have an opportunity to affect changes, convey their views and challenge social norms, thus promoting democracy. However, for argument for promoting democracy by Internet freedom and the use of social requires some fine-tuning (Breuer, 2011).
Moreover, social media are increasingly employed in processes of social changes and development works. Rather, the mobilization of ICT and social media has become an instrumental approach for and power to social change. Using social media is about leaderless social movements leading social change – it is the public will mobilization and spheres, as spread through new media outlets and platforms, that pave the way for political change. It is highly likely that the embrace and strategic use of social media technologies may further transform them into a driving force for major democratic reforms and other major political changes. Indeed, drawing on (Breuer 2011), the successful implementation of various types of social media for the promotion of social change requires a constant adjustment of strategies to political and national context specific requirements. The aim of this essay is to explore ICT and social media in relation to development and social change. Specifically, we intend to discuss the potential of the-state-of-the-art ICT in facilitating new mediated communication patterns and practices; examine to what extent social media platforms are based on inherently democratic structures of participation and how they have opened new avenues for civic participation and democracy; look at whether independent channels for citizen media have outlived themselves, and the potential of citizen media in meeting the Web 2.0 social media revolution; and look at how social media applications can be utilized in concrete development work or/and in processes of social change. We also endeavor to shed light on some challenges facing the evolving trend of social media.
Dear respective netizens,
We warmly embrace your visit to our blog, which is aimed to reflect on information and communication technologies (ICTs) and so-called ‘new media’ from a development/social change perspective.
As part of our mandatory assignment in New Media, ICT, and Development (Master Program : Communication Development, Malmo Hogskola, Sweden, 2009 – 2011), theoretical approaches to studying new media cultures and practices are explored through literature reviews, and illustrated with case studies will be elaborated throughout this blog with a sole purpose to provide an understanding of how new media and ICTs are analysed and theorised in media and communication studies, and particularly in relation to development and social change.
Our thematic group review, which is social media, will demonstrate a deepened understanding of the role of ICTs for globalization, and the significance of the digital revolution in a global perspective, with special regard to governance and civic participation.
Last but not least, you will also find our individual assignments in this blog, which discuss various social media case studies in particular to direct participation and democracy development around the globe, with a critically reflection upon the role of ICT and new media in specific development/social change contexts, with societal, cultural and ethical aspects taken into consideration.
We welcome any comments, critical point of view, or additional theoretical literatures from all of you to enrich this blog content.
So, relax, sit back, grab your coffee, and enjoy!
Minavere Vera Bardici
Simon Elias Bibri
Erliza Lopez Pedersen