Can Social Media Bring Social Change? DOMA. Snowden. You.
Ever since the news broke about the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) the Internet has been buzzing with supporters, adversaries, and others who want to share his or her voice on the matter. Between all of the objective rants, opinions and the fair share of Macklemore lyrics, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone ever thought that, one day, the Internet would be this giant public outlet for social opinion and sharing. A pool of rubber ducks with hand scribbled ideas bouncing around, being thrown at one another and sometimes even getting their heads ripped off. Did anyone ever really think that one of the biggest news outlets of my generation would be Twitter? Or that a person could have a voice that spreads to millions all by sharing a story on YouTube or a picture on Pinterest? Did anyone except for me stop and think, “Wow. This is really, REALLY awesome”?
Whether you agree with the decisions made by the Supreme Court or not, there is one thing we can all agree on. The Internet, and specifically social media, has forever changed the way we receive, share, and respond to news. With fast-growing outlets created solely for the purpose of sharing and spreading causes, such as UpWorthy and Buzzfeed, the generations that once were persecuted for having “no traditional skills” and could only understand digital language are finding ways to combat traditional media and get their voices heard. And the rest of the Internet is noticing, too.
If you haven’t seen it yet, Google transformed their search bar today. When typing in a search for “gay,” the search box turns into a striped rainbow pattern, a color combination most well known for being affiliated with the gay pride flag. Regardless of if you agree with Google’s choice to support or publicize today’s historical ruling, there is something to be said about the fact that the Internet has become the most powerful tool for voicing and spreading an opinion.
Today’s showing is far from the first circumstance of Internet protest or activism we have seen, though. Back in January of 2012, Google and Wikipedia, among other Internet heavy hitters, went dark in a protest against SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, legislation believed to be threatening free speech and innovation. Or, remember when a bunch of your Facebook friends turned their profile picture into a red equal sign in support of same-sex marriage? Facebook’s data shows that the trend did, in fact, impact the entire Facebook community, with 2.7 million more people changing their profile pictures that day than the Tuesday before. Would we all recognize the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, if it were not for his interview published in The Guardian and the media buzz to follow? Do you remember this HuffingtonPost image, this CNN compilation of social media laughs, the many memes on Buzzfeed, or the undoubtedly thousands of other news stories that were shared virally throughout social media about Snowden?
I know what you’re thinking. Those are just Facebook pictures. Just a couple hundred thousand shares online. And you’re right. A quick “share” or “like” on an article might be chalked up to groupthink, but still there are many that will adamantly defend their opinions outside of the Internet realm once they find a cause they are passionate about. While taking action on social media will undeniably NOT change legislation, the buzz that it has the potential to generate outside of social media can. The Internet and social media are great tools for connecting people and ideas, and in my opinion makes society more aware of issues that they otherwise may not have know about. It’s a digital era where your 140-character tweet may reach more people than a hometown newspaper, and that makes every one of us on social media a potential spark of these social changes. Whether you decide to take the actions offline is up to you.