The Political Power of Social Media

The Political Power of Social Media written by Clay Shirky  published in 2011 analyzes both the successes and the failure of regime changes through different types of social media. Shirky gives different examples in which it is proven that the pressure of civil society by the collective use of text messages or other means might cause governments to collapse.

Even if he has a critical understanding of the Internet in terms of the its potentiality to develop mass protests, he also considers social media as a powerful instrument to “compensate for the disadvantages of undisciplined groups by reducing the costs of coordination”. Social media have been used as a platform to bring a community together and also to document what is going on in the world. Apart from this, Shirky also mentioned the theory of the two-step process (Katz and Lazarsfeld) and accordingly argued that the Internet freedom can be thought as the second step because it helps one to create her/his own opinion by using blogs and engaging with online communities.

However, not only does civil society employ social media for political action, but also governments use these platforms to limit the oppositional political action. Governments like China’s have shown the examples of how even the shutting down the Internet service and mobile phone networks were considered to prevent dissident politics to emerge. Inevitably, these methods bring about more problems and might give rise to even bigger and wider mass protests.

What’s missing in Shirky’s article in my opinion is the combination of using social media and conventional media as TV and newspapers to create a revolution. Using this combination caused fro example the Arabic spring. Even if the effect of social media was revolutionary, standard media was important too. Internet and social media helps to quicken the flow of information, enable to express the own opinion somehow and make a fast coordination of bringing people together possible, but the standard media is necessary too. The latter even informs the part of the society which is not using social media platforms or even the internet for example elderly persons or one’s who can not effort the internet access due to the income or social class, where as the young intellectual middle-class mostly uses the internet to inform their selves.  Although we know the Arabic spring was caused because of the young generation using social media you can’t leave out to mention other types of media. Of course Shirky wants to focus of the social media in the politics but I think he should have at least mentioned that standard media gives some effects on the revolutions also.


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