Social media has changed the way we view the world drastically. Facebook is said to convey stories that touch the heart; Twitter the numbers that matter. Yet more importantly, it has changed the way social activism and grassroots movements take place.
Social media was what drew tens of thousands of Egyptians onto the streets of Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. With each individual’s participation, they overthrew a government and its president, showing the power of the masses. Yet looking at Egypt today, the country is still in an ongoing strife, with protesters angry that no real progress has been made.
The problem lies in the way social media gathers people. Responding to calls over Twitter or Facebook, social media has the power to draw people out of their homes, but it lacks the clear organisation or structure that traditional movements have historically had. Traditional structures are problematic because they require personal contact – each person must be individually swayed and persuaded to join forces – and social media allows us to remove this aspect. Yet in place of structure, there is chaos.
Throughout the Occupy Central protests, the commentary and videos from the front line are what have brought Hongkongers out to Admiralty, Wan Chai and Mong Kok. Sitting thousands of kilometers away, I only understood (and was alerted to) what was happening through my social media feed. Status by status, tweet by tweet, social media allows us to see what is happening moment by moment.
But after the dust has cleared and the police have seemingly blended into the shadows of the street, there are numerous questions that media companies and commentators around the world have raised. Can Hong Kong prove that this act of “civil obedience” is something more than simply reacting to news through the social stratosphere? Will Hong Kong’s outcome be a “success” like Egypt’s or will it achieve more?
As we look to the third consecutive week of the Occupy movement, these are questions that the world will look to, and could very well change the world’s perception on social media.