Back in the early 90s, when the Internet was still a crawling toddler of a ghost known only to techie geeks, the promise it made was intimidating. It was billed as the weapon of mass information and knowledge that was limbering up to take on the world with a bang. And it happened. But back then, its power was underestimated. Few imagined how generously it will lend voice to the voiceless; few thoughts how frantically it will exasperate oppressive regimes and embarrass the free ones; and bolster social movements of revolutionary consequences world over as a champion for individual freedom of expression. Its meteoritic rise in the last twenty years made it Aladdin’s genie for many and, off-course, an irresponsible Frankenstein for a few.
The children in mid 90s were raised in a world connected through MIRC chat rooms, messengers and emails. It was still an innocuous world, where it was all about having fun. But there was something serious brewing below the surface of this funny world. Something that ordinary people never thought was possible thus never cared. But in the last few years, the monolithic power it lent to the same ordinary people across the globe made the internet a breeding ground for all sorts of activism. A new force evolved out of the e-world that is now a platform for those who never mattered.
Each and every individual who claims to be a part of the civilized world can feel its effects in their personal lives. And the best part is that they can also sense the newfound muscle they have today because of the Internet. These are interesting times where a small group of individuals, from the comfort zone of their bedrooms can deluge the world with images of barbaric atrocity being committed in the name of “law and order”.
Here pictures of thousands of people in the streets of Kashmir are available making it impossible for the Indian government to control them with force. No longer are the love affairs of Israel and America confined to corporate funded talk shows and newspaper columns. It is “out there” open to scrutiny and criticism, it is from their bedrooms again, a whole nation gathers behind a Pakistani woman who is detained by a foreign country facing a mindless prison sentence. The list of such instances is endless.
It is beyond question that two big ideas in the realm of internet provided these activists the tool that made them what they are today: a power to be reckon with first, the idea of a society diary that eventually became known as Blog and second, the invention of streaming videos that was later promoted at the world stage by YouTube. Blogging was the beginning and YouTube, the tipping point.
Ever since YouTube came onto the fray, the social media acquired a degree of legitimacy that online opinion makers, activists and journalists never had. As we witnessed a clip of boy fired down by rangers personnel in Karachi is float on the internet, picked up by the mainstream media, and the culprits got what they deserved. This is the power of the streaming videos.
Another famous instance is the presidential election of Iran in 2009. When the status quo in Tehran declared victory of Ahmedenjad, the opposition discarded the results as rigged and began to protest. The unrest continued for weeks. The government, unable to stop the protestors, brazenly suppressed the mainstream media from covering the events, but the protestors found a way. They upload MMS videos of protest on YouTube and kept the outside world updated on the ground realities of Tehran. Some of the famous bloggers gave interviews to global media like Al-Jazeera, BBC on webcams from their hideouts.
The overall protest campaign may have not earned a victory but it was a major demonstration of the same revolutionary power that ordinary people now possess.
The growing power of social networking sites like YouTube, Face book and Twitter along with influential bloggers who are fast becoming role models for the youth, have made the use of social media for constructive purposes a trend and it looks certain that this trend will continue further into the future ever strengthening the promise
of the social media.