A few days ago I posted this statement on my Twitter account:
“Most used term this year, social media. I’ve about had it! And yes I realise the irony of tweeting this statement so don’t even.”
We have been reading about the social media ever since its inception but after it has somehow been given all credit for the revolutions happening in the Middle East, social media has become the subject of the year. Endless debates and analyses of websites such as Facebook and Twitter’s role in the Arab revolutions flooded the region drowning other important elements in its wake, hence my Twitter outburst.
Yes, the social media sites have aided in exposing parts of the revolution that governments tried relentlessly to keep hidden and a Facebook page might have set a revolution in motion, but those were nothing but tools used in the building of a national dream.
Believe it or not revolutions did take place prior to Facebook.
In 1952 Egypt there was no ‘Free Officer’s Movement’s’ Facebook page calling to overthrow the British backed monarchy. Gandhi’s non-cooperative movement did not ‘tweet’ about its struggle with ending the British rule in India. Neither Castro nor Guevara uploaded videos of their forest march to Cuba onto Youtube and although there was no live-stream of Martin Luther King Jr. from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the entire world still heard his dream.
Throughout history revolutions did take place and ruthless governments have been overthrown. So before we go overboard in giving credit to the social media we should evaluate what it really did for today’s revolutions.
Social media sites did not create these revolutions they merely advertised them, in the same way pamphlets and underground newsletters did in the past. They are a medium, granted they have a wider reach, but they are a medium nonetheless. Credit for the revolutions must always be given to the people and the people alone, they are whom we need to be debating and analysing in this case not Zuckerburg’s Facebook and Dorsey’s Twitter.
The exaggerated attention given to social media sites has resulted in an infatuation that has led users to believing that their existence on them is more important than their existence in the real world.
A social media site is designed to make you believe that the more followers you have the more important you ought to be. Therefore, the more followers you have the higher the need becomes to retain them. Every user is given the opportunity to become a critic and many have seized it.
Some users act like politicians running for the Twitter presidency, addressing certain sections of the world, hashtagging, re-tweeting and monitoring fluctuations in their followers’ numbers. Contrary to what our Twitter users/politicians believe the reality of social media remains that you gain followers and you lose them. You really do not need to be developing alter egos to better suit your cyber world persona. It’s not science, it’s Twitter.
To our social media addicts I pose a question: “If a tree falls outside of Twitter, does it make a sound?”
If you took time mulling this question over then, in the immortal words of Tyra Banks, congratulations you are in the running to becoming Twitter’s next top user.
Indeed the numbers might be pointing towards a life lived solely through the social media but statistics do not always reflect the ways of the world. There are indeed millions using these sites but there are billions of people walking this earth who are not. Of the many activists that have taken to Twitter and Facebook during the Middle Eastern revolutions hundreds have died on the streets with no social media account to their names.
The question is are we being led to believe that if some people choose not to be on such websites that we should neglect their actual existence?
If they are writers do we not read their works? If they are politicians do we not hear their views? If they are activists do we not pay attention to their cause? Do we leave them behind while we set sail on our fancy boat of modernity, christened ‘Social Media’?
The term social media is in fact an oxymoron for there is nothing social about this media. There is nothing socially satisfying about tweeting to no one in particular. It is not a revolution, it is just a way for us to vent out and hope that someone in the cyber world is listening to what no one in our real world actually wants to.
This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 12th June, 2011.