Professional privilege in social media

by Therese Sjödin on October 14, 2013

in Activism,Social Movements

There are many examples of different usages of social media that would be appropriate to bring up here regarding who participates in ICT4D and how. The ones that I want to discuss with you can be seen as showing similar aspects concerning professional privilege while at the same time being different in the aims and the ways they were arranged. First some short background;

  • The #1millionshirts initiative, that Manning (2012) brings up (and Lucia has mentioned here already), spread via the founder’s blog, Youtube and Twitter and it takes place at a local and individual level. The aim is to engage other individuals to practical action as well as creating awareness of problems in Africa (although this was exactly why the initiative was critiqued and later had to close down  – is African countries really in need of one million t-shirts?) You can check out the Youtube video further down to get some more info and hear the founder’s own words about this if you like.
  •  The #MDG summit in 2010 that Denskus and Esser have researched (2013) via blogs and Twitter is taking place at a totally different level which can be seen as global and institutional. According to the authors, the UN sees this kind of global conference as an important tool “to shape our global future” (Denskus & Esser 2013:408). From this and the research, the aim seems to be to share information and reports discussed in the conference but also to discuss the issues brought up at the summit with a broader public.

This shows two examples of how social media is used in the development field to try to influence social change. These specific usages of social media are both issue-specific, concerning lifestyles, values and behavior and connecting to what the organizers see as challenges right now. This is according to Cammaerts the common way to work for social change in current times in contrast to the earlier focus on ideologies and capital (2007:218).

Also, what the researches have in common is the conclusion that in both cases, it is the experts and development professionals that are either seen as more important than individuals writing as development “amateurs” (Manning 2012:14) or are more present in the online debates (Denskus & Esser 2013:414). I recently had the opportunity to attend the 24th session of the Human Rights Council at the UN office in Geneva (as the representative for a small French NGO) and can confirm the additional argument by Densus & Esser that it was mostly the “professionals” present (I mean professional as those with the opportunity to get a badge and be physically there in the UN building) who seemed to be tweeting about the debates directly from the conference room. Although the session was streamed live online, I also felt that it was us, the participants in the room who were targeted with the encouragement to use the hashtag #HRC24 when tweeting.

Social media is often celebrated for increasing participation and strengthening democratic aspects, but these cases show a different reality. It seems like it is rather the experts who are the “most valuable player” in what can be seen as a game of ICT4D…

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