Social media does not equal revolution

Social media’s role in society appears often superfluous as we primarily rely on social media to share images of ourselves, of our trips or other quite superficial things that we enjoy. However, social media also has a more important role in society, enabling organization and mobilization for social movements. This has become particularly evident during the Arab spring, as underlined by Rasha A. Abdulla who stated, “The main catalyst for the January 25 revolution was the Internet, so it may be accurate to describe this as an Internet-based revolution”. Nevertheless, as Rasha A. Abdulla herself admits “the Internet was not the only factor involved”. This said, the Arab Spring showed the world how important social media can be for social movements across the world. It also showed how we can use social media for something bigger than just communicating and sharing things with our friends. Social media allows social movements to organize, mobilize and share information with greater ease.

However, this focus on social media does not give enough credit to the individuals that actually risked their lives for these revolutions and gives too much credit to technology. As outlined by Donatella Della Ratta in her chapter “On the Narratives of Arab ‘DIY Revolution’ And How It Fits into Our Neoliberal Times”, technology is often placed at the centre of the Arab Spring, as the enabler of these revolutions. Unfortunately, we give technology more credit than it deserves in these movements, as technology does not have the to power to actually make changes. However, many sill label the Arab Spring as a Facebook or Twitter revolution. Donatella Della Ratta gives the 2006 Time magazine cover as an example of how we fetishize technology, it depicts the “person of the year” as technology and and its alleged powers to liberate individuals. This shows the exaggerated power given to technology. It can’t be denied that it has helped in many ways. However, we cannot deny the fact that revolutions have been happening for years without social media platforms, movements have still been able to rise and achieve their goals. Technology is something new, but social movements and revolutions aren’t. Believing that social media is the most important factor in a revolution doesn’t only discredit past movements and revolutions, it also discredits the power of those who put themselves at risk for the sake of their beliefs.

Technology plays a crucial role in terms of visibility and engagement with the organization Refugees Welcome. However, that does not mean that technology is its biggest factor. Refugees Welcome is an organization that brings together people with similar beliefs, who believe that as people we have a responsibility to help one another. These likeminded people were not born out of the internet, the people who participate are individuals that already believed in the integration process as something that could make the transition process for refugees easier. These people’s beliefs were not enabled or triggered by the internet, technology simply acts as a facilitator to help them organize themselves, but it is not crucial, it makes things easier. Technology helps these people come together from different parts of the world, but their work could still be done without it. Technology helps spread their message and reach more people, but it would still be possible without it, it would just take more time and effort. In fact, technology does not play a massive role in Refugees Welcome, the most important part of the organization is the process of taking someone in and helping them get on their feet. Their use of technology and social media is more focused on contacting and sharing their news  and stories with interested parties, as well as to enable people to make donations. Instead, the organization does not use social media a lot, for example, their use of twitter is not too much, but they do have twitter pages for their different sections so that people can follow them and keep up with their content. Therefore, yes, social media helps raise awareness on the organization and put people in contact, as well as raising donations, but the truly life-changing work is done by the families that host individuals and help them settle down in a comfortable way. Technology does not drive people’s will, it just makes it easier for people to be the change they want to see.

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Picture from Refugees Welcome Italia instagram page

Therefore, it is true that the internet has played an important role in modern revolutions and movements, but we cannot give technology more weight than the actual people who are putting their lives into this work. Focusing on technology does not consider all the aspects behind the revolutions that actually pushed people to demand for change, it shifts the attention on the medium. It takes the credit away from those who died for what they believed in. People are becoming more and more passive because they believe that social change can now be achieved through Facebook posts and tweets. We become more and more convinced that by writing our opinions on our Facebook profile, we might change something. But that’s not it, we cannot count on social media to do our work for us, we cannot count on change to happen while we sit down and wait for things to change. Revolutions take hard work and take time to happen.

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Photo by: Gigi Ibrahim

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