In her review of my book Tell Everyone, Drainie suggests “What the social media universe seems to be best at, in terms of the common good, is helping out instantly during enormous physical crises – earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and fires,” but she doubts my contention that the bonds fostered by social media are “the glue that helps societies prosper and endure.”
There is a risk in underestimating the long-term impact of novel forms of social action nurtured by emerging communication technologies. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, few would have predicted it would become a defining moment in the civil rights movement. Though segregation on Montgomery buses ended in 1956, it took years of campaigning before discrimination was banned in 1964. Even then, the fight for civil rights continued.
In the winter of 2012, social media was critical in turning a moment into a movement, giving rise to Idle No More, the largest nationwide social action movement in Canada since the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As I write in Tell Everyone, it grew from a Facebook page and a tweet into an indigenous-led movement that used social media to rally and engage Canadian and global publics. It is just one example of how activists have appropriated social media as a space to connect, communicate and coordinate in previously unimaginable ways.
It is too easy to dismiss nascent movements like Idle No More. It is part of a new wave of activism, from Occupy Wall Street in the US, to the Indignados in Spain, to Yo Soy 132 in Mexico, where social media has been crucial in uniting people around a cause. On traditional media, such movements tend to be first neglected and then dismissed. On social media, they emerge as vibrant manifestations of the passions and hopes of engaged individuals.
To argue that social media does not matter is to ignore how the power of sharing is transforming how we understand and give meaning to our world. The urge to share is a constant in human history. Technology is not going to turn us into new beings but it does influence the way we think and live. As I write in Tell Everyone, “the marketplace of ideas is being reshaped by the volume, visibility, speed and reach of social media.” And ideas change the world.