Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members


[dropcap]B[/dropcap]eyond helping us stay entertained and connected, the Internet and social media is challenging fundamental social pardigms and effecting real change.

Throughout the history of humankind, technologies and innovation have served as an instrument of change that has indelibly shaped our cultural landscape. The advent of the printing press was not well received back in the day, derided as a threat to European culture, social order and even the very moral fabric of society. The parallels to the voices decrying the ascent of social and electronic media are too stark to ignore, but the capacity of social media to broadly empower society and usher in change is a often swept aside in this furor.

Redefining Norms

Just as humanity has evolved over centuries, so too has the nature of electronic media, albeit in a much shorter time frame. It is now a global community for like-minded people to come together, voice thoughts and opinions, spread awareness and drive social change. Undeniably, people share content on social media to define their personal brand, achieve a sense of self-fulfillment and further the cause of brands or causes that resonate deeply with them. However, to dismiss ‘armchair activism’ as simply lazy is to miss the woods for the tree. The real-life benefits of shining a light on topical issues that need to be brought to the fore are often ignored.

Awareness really is the first step of bringing about meaningful change, particularly if it is linked to deep-rooted social beliefs or stigmas. Information is transmitted at light speed in today’s day and age in more ways than one as well. Think of the #MeToo movement, or how everyone rallied around Paris after the 2015 terror attacks. As such movements gain momentum, the role they play in enacting positive social change is undeniable.

In the case of #MeToo as well, a simple hashtag turned into a movement whose surge could not be stopped, in the process helping people across the globe open up about sexual harassment and assault. By shining a light on a social malaise that might otherwise have been swept under the carpet, it helped create a culture of sensitivity and empathy into a difficult, often ignored issue. Admittedly, the anonymity of the internet allows many to chime in without fear of facing those they verbally joust with, but that same anonymity was put to powerful use with this hashtag that allowed women to voice their stories without fear. People from all walks of life brought sexual misconduct firmly into the limelight, and its repercussions are still being felt today.

This global movement went viral in late 2017, impacting industries as diverse as fashion, media, the corporate world, sports, medicine, music, education, and military, as well as institutions of the government and church. As a global movement, the impact was unparalleled, playing a pivotal role in erasing the stigma surrounding this sensitive issue. By making us rethink our social norms, laws and policies, it has helped recognize the issue and provided solutions that to their people.

Blurring of Boundaries

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the impact of digital technology and social media on popular culture as much the everyday imagery of people bent over their smartphones, utterly absorbed in a world of their own making. Suffice to say that the Internet is an omnipresent tool influencing and shaping human behavior, but it has also promoted engagement with the world around us in ways that were previously impossible, even inspiring social protest and resistance. The mushrooming of Occupy protests, the Arab Spring, the mobilization of resistance against the Government of the Ukraine or in Hong Kong was heavily dependent on social media.

That our networked world radically democratizes the process of effecting public change is beyond doubt. However, more than the underlying technology it is the creative interpretation of social media that has given it a life beyond cyberspace. As communities look to give their own aspirations and needs wings, social and political movements have thronged to social media to amplify the chatter around their cause.

Indeed, social media provides the canvas for online conversations to gain greater clarity and meaning, in the process playing an important role as influencer on offline conversations. As the culture of our lives becomes interminably intertwined with that of the internet, the intermeshing of virtual and real worlds are increasingly becoming a part of the fabric of contemporary culture.

Some years back, if the idea was mooted about social media being a catalyst for social media, the idea would have seemed far-fetched. But the world today is more connected than ever, and the ripple effects of a voice from seven seas away will be felt closer to home too. As a bridge across boundaries and straddling cultural divides, social media is evidence that the global community can come together to make a difference and create a better tomorrow for us all.

If you look at businesses today, out of 50 to 60 million businesses in India today only 15 million are digitally active. Now, let’s flip the question and ask how many of them have a Whatsapp account? The idea is to take the internet to them rather than to say that the internet will come to them, and therefore when we build an app like Whatsapp for business that lets you do the most basic CRM, it lets you take the internet to people with use cases that matter. – Sandeep Bhushan, Director and Head of India GMS, Facebook

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]A Digital World- By The Numbers

Total global population: 7.676 billion

Global Internet users: 4.388 billion

Active social media users: 3.484 billion

Mobile social media users: 3.256 billion[/box]

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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