There are currently 1.393 billion monthly active users on Facebook and roughly a billion registered Twitter users. To put this is in perspective, if Facebook were a country, it would be the most populous nation on Earth. Because social media tools and platforms have made it so simple to produce and broadcast a message via smartphone, the faces of activism, journalism and humanitarian efforts have been changed dramatically. Let’s take a look at some of the more remarkable instances where technology has enabled people to get their ideas out to the world and influence social change.
The Haiti 2010 Earthquake
When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 17, 2010, it killed about 220,000 people, destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, and left roughly 30,000 commercial buildings destroyed in its wake. As soon as word got out on Facebook and Twitter, fundraising support campaigns were launched to support the American Red Cross relief efforts. CNN Money reports the American Red Cross was able to raise about $7 million for Haiti in 24 hours via $10 text donations. Because this money was raised so quickly, the American Red Cross was able to provide an influx of support to the Haitian people.
The Arab Spring 2010
In 2010 when Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and many other Arab nations were experiencing political unrest, it was one of the first times in history when average citizens could share their experiences directly with people across the world via Twitter and Facebook, rather than being remediated by a news organization. Young people in Europe and America were able to connect with the youth involved in the conflicts of the Arab Spring, which fostered a social rapport. Much of the Western world became more invested in the outcome of the Middle East’s political struggles.
One University of Washington study found that tweets about political change went from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day during the week of former Egyptian President Honsi Mubarak’s resignation. Throughout the period of instability in the Middle East, traditional news organizations struggled to keep up with the exchanges happening online, and people grew more accustomed to finding their news from social media sites and other alternative sources.
The Hong Kong 2014 Protests
In 2014, thousands of Hong Kong citizens took to the streets to protest a Beijing proposal that would restrict any anti-Chinese Communist Party members from running for office. The activists used Facebook to share videos and photos and an application called WhatsApp, which enabled users to send text messages, images, videos, user location and audio messages across different cellular platforms. Most innovative of all was the use of an application called FireChat, which won the Interactive Innovation Award at this year’s South by Southwest conference, according to the Dish Network blog. FireChat enables phones to create their own network outside of the Internet via Bluetooth technology. Unlike mobile and internet networks that become sluggish or break down completely when users overload the system, the Bluetooth network created by FireChat actually gains strength as more people join. With their creative use of technology, Hong Kong protesters were able to coordinate their movement and stay organized while the occupy-style demonstrations continued for over three months.