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Social media review of 2017: the politics, the trends and how it all came together

Victoria-based professor reflects on social media’s impact of the last year

Clare Hennig - CBC News

December 31, 2017

Social media defined many of the big moments of 2017, splashing history across Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Social media defined many of the big moments of 2017 — from politicians taking to Twitter to women uniting behind hashtags.

David Black, a professor of communication and culture at Royal Roads University in Victoria, says social media had a particularly strong impact culturally, politically and socially this year.

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"This was, in many ways, a year in which we learned lessons and confirmed some emergent trends with respect to social media," Black said.

The way world leaders and politicians are using platforms like Twitter is unprecedented, he told CBC On The Coast guest host Jason D'Souza.

"It's new in the sense that political parties seem to matter less now and these alternative platforms — Twitter being crucial here — matter more," he said.

"Social media are not merely means by which a brief campaign can be launched."

Political reach

The key aspect of social media for politics, Black said, is that it reaches demographics who may not have been as politically active previously.

"It allows you to reach people who might not identify with parties, who might not think of politics in terms of policy or even ideology, but for whom politics is a matter of identity and feeling," he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump's often controversial tweets is just one example of how social media and politics shifted this year.

"President Trump's use of the Twitter platform [shows] the ability to convert the wave and charisma of a campaign, whatever its merits, into a tool of governance in a way that we have not yet seen before in the Western world," Black said.

Social networks

Numerous social media advocacy campaigns exploded in 2017, highlighting the power of Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to bring people together for social justice.  

In the #MeToo campaign, for example, women around the world changed their status on social media to reflect experiences with sexual harassment.

"You have women — no matter who they are, famous or ordinary — speaking as one about their experiences, brought together by their experience of harassment and sexual assault," he said.

Social networking is nothing new, Black said, but it's becoming more powerful with technology. 

"This network culture is, in some sense, a whole different landscape by which people think about politics, think about social mobilization and think about their relationships with each other," Black said.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

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Social media defined many of the big moments of 2017 from politicians taking to Twitter to women uniting behind the #MeToo hashtag.  7:26

With files from On The Coast.  

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