Who would have thought when we all made our first MySpace pages back in high school, complete with the ridiculous personalized backgrounds and theme songs, that we were leading a worldwide revolution? Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but it’s true; the development of social media over the past decade has transformed the world. From societal relations, to the way companies do business, and even how political uprisings are led (The revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted), social media is quickly becoming a defining part of societies and cultures all over the world. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without social media; how many days do you go without logging onto Facebook, looking up something on Wikipedia, or watching a video on Youtube? Yet while all of us have helped lead this social media revolution, we oftentimes don’t realize just how influential it’s become.
For starters, entire industries have been created; my own job exists solely due to the social media revolution. I work part time for a company called Social Intelligence in Santa Barbara as a “Social Media Analyst,” which is really just a professional name for “Facebook creeper.” It’s not my dream job, but it pays the bills. We are hired by companies from all over the country to compile reports on peoples’ social media presence. Our clients include insurance companies hoping to discover fraudulent claims, private investigation firms, and employers vetting job applicants. So set those Facebook profiles to “private,” people, because you’re going to have a hard time finding a job if company creepers such as myself can find that picture of you taking a fat bong rip.
But we’re not the only ones monitoring your social media presence; the government is getting into the game as well. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the U.S. government already employs hundreds of intelligence analysts that sift through overseas Facebook and Twitter accounts in order to track and monitor events such as the current revolution in Syria. However, there’s only so much social media that a few hundred analysts can cover. And so both the Defense Department and the FBI have expressed interest in developing software that could constantly scour entire social media websites for information on anything from terrorist threats to ongoing crises. In its request for the development of its own version of the software, the FBI states that “Social media has emerged to be the first instance of communication about a crisis, trumping traditional first responders that included police, firefighters, EMT, and journalists. Social media is rivaling 9-1-1 services in crisis response and reporting.” Imagine a world where instead of calling 9-1-1, you just tweet about the car accident on the highway instead.
Obviously, a lot of people won’t be comfortable with the Big Brother-esque idea that some FBI machine is reading your Twitter posts, but the fact is that anything you publicly post on a social media site is legally fair game for anybody to read. The government has always monitored newspapers for information, but now that social media has become the superior source, their interest in monitoring them shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Social media has also revolutionized the way we coordinate and plan events. Whether it’s planning your next party, organizing Floatopia or starting a political movement, social media is the most important organizational tool out there. As has been widely noted in the news, social media sites played a crucial role in the wave of revolutions that swept through the Arab world over the past year. The mass demonstrations at Tahrir Square in Egypt that eventually resulted in the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime were first organized and planned on a Facebook page. Similarly, the “Occupy” movement that spread to hundreds of cities across the U.S. and Europe never could have existed were it not for the coordinating powers of social media.
In countries where authoritarian regimes control all of the traditional sources of media like television, radio and newspapers, social media provides an incredibly important platform for those who promote change. In China, for example, try as the regime might, they have had trouble silencing the plethora of blogs and Weibo posts (the Chinese version of Twitter) that push for democratic reform. Avaaz.org, a global, progressive activist organization, has successfully harnessed the power of social media to exert influence on governments and corporations with it’s ability to gather millions of signatures on petitions literally within days. Last year, when Red Bull planned to race in a Formula One event in repressive Bahrain, the organization had million of its members flood Red Bull’s Facebook page with comments promising to boycott the company unless they pulled out of the race.
Sometime in the coming months, Facebook will be going public in what is being predicted to be the largest initial public offering ever from a tech company, with an estimated value of $94 billion, according to Bloomberg Business. The Fiscal Times says a valuation that large would put Facebook—the second-most visited website in the world, ranked just below Google — in the same group of corporate giants as PepsiCo, McDonald’s and Anheuser-Busch InBev, showing just how influential investors expect social media to be in our society going forward. Facebook’s huge IPO show’s how important and influential social media has become in the world, a revolution led by us, the social-media generation.
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