Why exclusion in social media

by Therese Sjödin on October 18, 2013

in Activism,Social Movements

Why is expertise privileged in social media debates for development? I have looked into this some more since I find it very interesting how an easily accessible technological tool (for those with internet access of course, which is not a big part of the world looking at the picture below), which at first glance seems to broaden participation and perspectives, turns out to be run by a small group of people who actually had a voice in these issues even before the concept of new media was thought of.

www.internetevangelismday.com www.internetevangelismday.com

From this I would like to argue, in accordance with several authors, that the so called digital divide is not only digital or economic as it is often discussed. It is clearly also socioeconomic as Nederveen Pieterse writes with the argument that the discourse of the digital divide therefore is very misleading (2005:12). The exclusion in social media is, in addition to technological differences, also based on time available for blogging or tweeting as well as your environment and social relations. Sorj & Guedes argues that a person’s social network is critical for the use of for example e-mail (2005:31) and although social media tools like Twitter to a lesser extent are dependent on personal, offline contacts I think this is an important point. You often share values and an approach to different things with your friends and family and if none of them are using or talking about for example Twitter it will probably be unlikely that you yourself see this as something valuable and meaningful.

When we are discussing reasons for different usages of social media for social change, I also think that a part of the problem with experts being privileged and valued more than other actors is created by the organizations (in which these professionals most likely work) themselves. I mean that if international organizations or NGOs mostly use social media as another “broadcasting tool” and their policies seems to be set offline (Denskus & Esser 2013:414,418) it is not too hard to understand why expertise is valuable and privileging these actors to also join the online discussion.

From this, I can also see the connection to “slacktivism” (as Peppi has discussed here earlier) which could arise as private actors feel they do not have the opportunity to impact the policies and cannot compete with professionals to have a say in development issues. Instead they might start to passively share or retweet information from these experts to feel that they at least are doing something to try to influence social change. And writing this, I actually see connections to my own usage of social media…

{ 1 comment }

Xiaosong Zheng October 30, 2013 at 6:21 pm

It is a interesting post to examine the exclusion issue in social media. As the picture shows, Internet access is one barrier for using social media. I also agree that a social network around you can influence the use of social media. Expert privilege could be another reason for exclusion in social media. But expert privilege effect on social media might be different in different countries. In some developing countries expert opinions are heavily influenced by national government. Those expert opinions are indeed government positions. Even in developed countries experts (or those elites) still have close connection with the national government and their values and knowledge largely represent government values or positions. In this case, exclusion in social media will be related to politics. Many countries control social media more or less and in some countries Facebook is totally banned. Therefore at least many of the exclusion problems will finally be directed to politics and political system.

For the slacktivism in social media, although there are both positive and negative voices, there is a word called “Microphilanthropy”, many people still think they can use social media like Facebook and twitter to do Microphilanthropy, for example recently somebody translated some news from Iran and posted them in social media, and the whole world knows the otherwise pretty hidden information and some countries start to put pressure on Iran for more democracy. Many people still think the “accumulated effect” could be significant in social media, especially from microphilanthropy perceptive in social media.

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