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Research by American & Turkish Universities suggests social media activism has little to no effect on the real world

Published: 18 APR 2018 09:23AM

Words by AC Speed | Senior Editor


SOCIAL MEDIA is now commonplace in the lives of billions of people around the world. It serves as a platform to connect people all over the globe (or flat disk if you're an idiot). Whether you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, the end result is ultimately the same. Billions of interactions on a daily basis with people you know and love, and complete strangers.

Most people utilize these platforms to share images of their friends, family, pets, and food. Some use these technologies to promote political opinions, ethical or moral grievances, outrage at their government, or even hate towards a regime.

Political activism has been on the rise for many years thanks to the global network of social media technologies available at your fingertips. More and more citizens of countries around the world are becoming vastly educated on their own political stance. This naturally leads to real-world activism in many cases. But is it actually changing anything?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota, Morris, Minnesota, USA & Firat University, Elazig in Turkey published their initial findings of a study titled, ‘Social media choices and uses: comparing Turkish and American young-adults’ social media activism’.

They conducted interviews with 40 people from the Faculty of Communication of Firat University (Turkey) and 36 people from the Department of Communication, Media & Rhetoric of the University of Minnesota Morris (USA) all aged between 18 - 24.

“Their experiences, education level, and national, ethnic, religious and social specifics shape the kinds of responses we have in this report. In other words, the characteristics of the samples determine the results. This means our findings are not generalizable but are instead rich in details that provide insights. “

All participants were subjected to in-depth interviews and asked to complete a semi-structured questionnaire that involved asking participants about their use of the Internet and social networking sites, the global and local scale of issues they follow, their participation in political parties and political communication in general.

“The interviews gave us a chance to hear, understand, compare and contrast participants’ answers concerning their particular forms of online and offline activity and their political interests”

The team found that sample used social media to become informed of issues as opposed to mobilize for action or activism.

“They use the media to become aware of topics and to be informed of issues of interest, but they tend to follow and read rather than initiate and lead” - Barbara R Burke, Associate Professor UMM Humanities Division

“While that participatory politics possibility exists, for the students we interviewed in Turkey and the US, most of them were not using social media to participate in or protest any political processes”

“So, although there is a belief that social media could change the world, and new media technologies are seen to have revolutionary potentials, our respondents use media for more social and interpersonal needs. It has not changed their lives in the ways that political theorists have imagined, but new media technologies have nonetheless affected the lives of many people”

What does this really mean?

Whilst the team is not denying that social media is a very important tool for young people to become aware of their political situation, and others, they found that overall, interactions via social media related to any type of activism has contributed very little to any real change in their life. There is absolutely no doubt that the use of social media platforms has led to an exponential increase in planned and calculated protests throughout the world, however, that’s usually all it turns out to be, a protest. It doesn’t bring any real change.

Take the United KIngdom's recent action to bomb Syria without first consulting its citizens or parliament. There has been outrage by MP’s and the public nationwide with protests organized via social media taking place right now, but it will not change anything.

This is obviously an extremely complex topic to research with hundreds of thousands of variables to consider. The team has stated themselves that this is just the start of the research.

“We believe that qualitative cross-cultural studies related to social media activism will open new horizons to researchers, and our findings will inspire future studies”

So, if you think changing your profile picture to a graphic of a bomb with a red cross through it is going to help anyone anywhere, think again.

Media Resource://10.1057/s41599-018-0090-z

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