Nicholas Carr on whether social media can help .. or hinder .. social change

Technology and its influence are everywhere. Photo: AP/Lee Jin-man

Technology and its influence are everywhere. Photo: AP/Lee Jin-man


Whether or not the revolution will be televised, a lot of people today are convinced it will be tweeted. Or texted. Or perhaps just conveyed in half a billion status updates on Facebook.

It's become a new metric of the momentum and popular support of social movements ... something like a Facebook page that has 70,000 likes ... an organization with 200,000 followers on Twitter ... or, maybe, 80,000 people signing an online petition. 

Moroccan Arab Spring Protestors
(AP/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Social media websites like Twitter were credited with energizing and enabling the Arab Spring movement, particularly in Egypt. The Green Movement that inspired so much hope for change in Iran in 2009 was so associated with social media that it became known as "The Twitter Revolution". The revolutions in both countries, though, are at best incomplete, and the role of social media in the long, drawn-out battle for lasting change is rather less clear. 

Nevertheless, boosters of the Internet and social media believe they're tools for the expression of popular will and profound democratic change and social movements. Late last year in Canada, we saw the rapid rise of the Idle No More movement, which sprung from the online pages of Facebook to the headlines and an intensified national conversation on aboriginal concerns. But by February, according to one study, online interest in Idle No More had shrunk to a small fraction of what it had been just a few weeks earlier. 

Joseph Kony
(AP/Stuart Price)
And a little more than a year ago, remember KONY 2012? Where social media was used to drum up global support for the international manhunt for Joseph Kony, the infamous leader of the Lord's Resistance Army. And people did pay attention. For a couple of weeks. Within days, the video went well and truly viral. It was the hottest topic on the Internet and the Western world was galvanized around the movement to bring Kony to justice for his crimes against humanity, including the forced recruitment of child soldiers. 

Ikea Monkey
(CP/Bronwyn Page)
And then it wasn't. Interest in Kony flatlined just as quickly as it exploded, without even the IKEA monkey to distract everyone. 

We know that the Internet and online culture is changing us, but is it making us more, or less, capable of being agents of lasting social change? 

This is a question that Nicholas Carr has been probing the past few years. He's an author who's best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Nicholas Carr spoke with Michael from Boulder, Colorado.
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