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Political Activism Through Social Media – Pro vs Con

Social media has played a major role in the spread of new ideas and movements in the past decade. Ever since the growth of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., we seem to have all of the world’s events at our fingertips. The moment that something is captured and posted online, the audience multiplies with each share and comment. We can easily see the positive aspects of this: with huge networks, ideas can spread to places they couldn’t reach before, due to physical restraints. However, there are also negative effects.

One major effect is the information cascade: like we learned in class, the information cascade affects us by having people make quick judgement and decisions just based on what the people around them are doing. Shares on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, etc are good examples of quick transfers of information. Just like in an information cascade, the next person can see how many people shared it, but don’t know why they shared it and often only judge the article by a quick read of the title or a fast skim. This can lead to misinformation cascade, or the information that is being cascaded is actually false. Articles with exaggerated titles intended to be click-bait are often misinterpreted. One example is NBC/s reporting of the “Misinformation Spreads on Social Media Following Paris Attacks”.

Having a large networks makes people much more aware of what is going on around them. But how does this relate to the proportion of surrounding people required to convince them to change their behaviors? Does having a tight-knit social circle of friends (component in a graph) affect the effectiveness of the spread of a political movement? Often on social media, support can be shown by a simple post of a picture or a like of a status or a change of profile picture. This past year, students in Hong Kong changed their Facebook profile pictures to a yellow ribbon on a black background to symbolize their fight for democracy.

There are also arguments against the effects of social media: Malcom Gladwell from the New Yorker stated that there have been numerous movements before social media became prominent (i.e. Arab Spring). Some argue that even though it makes it easier to spread information, it also acts as a ‘cop out’: it now becomes too easy to just copy someone else’s pre-written message and add a comment or two. No real work or progress is being made.




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November 2015