The Art of Social Media
One of the phrases that you hear on a regular basis on media outlets is that ‘we are living in the world of digital media,’ and it usually has a negative connotation. It is true that we are surrounded by digital media products that are literally changing the dynamics of the contemporary world; for better or worse. The new media is playing an important role in shaping the future of industries which weren’t previously associated with it such as health, the public sector, governance and education to name a few.
What we do know for sure is that this social media revolution has changed the dynamics of communications and is going to continue at a similar or faster pace in the future as well. We have mobile applications addressing and providing solutions to issues like food wastage, websites that are offering free educational courses, animations that use interactive storytelling to raise awareness about issues like the need to take action against climate change, child abuse and counter violent extremism. Social media has literally turned the world into a global village and we are heading towards a future in which any action is capable of creating results of exceptional magnitude, be it augmented and virtual reality or fake news.
I have been fortunate enough to be part of some local initiatives which aimed at changing the narrative, especially when it comes to social issues like child abuse, the environment, human rights and empathy. I believe in the power of digital media because it gives one a unique opportunity to reach out to people regardless of their geographical or class divisions. An animated video on food wastage by a local Pakistani company was viewed over 1.1 million times, initiating an engaging debate on how we can make small changes in our daily routine to reduce such waste. Donations and the number of volunteers went up for that organization and the comments section was full of people from within and outside of Pakistan showing their support to the cause. It was picked up by a number of websites across the border because like us they also share problems like poverty, hunger and food wastage. We received similar responses on our collaboration on animated videos with WWF-Pakistan, on environmental issues like the Indus River dolphin and pollution. This is the power of social media, where with all the political hostility and history between the two countries, people got together to discuss and look for solutions to common issues.
The global outcry on the recent Amazon rainforest fires is another example of the power of social media. The issue was restricted to Brazil where the government had taken some debatable decisions like sacking the head of the agency amid rows over its deforestation data. It came to global prominence when horrifying visuals were shared on social media by locals. Suddenly, celebrities and influential personalities were highlighting the issue on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, which not only created awareness but also put pressure on the Brazilian government to address the issue in a serious manner. In December 2011, Australian environmentalist Miranda Gibson climbed a 60 m tall tree and spent 449 days there to save the rainforest in Southern Tasmania from logging. She used a solar powered computer and satellite technology to write blogs, and virtually attended environmental conferences and events. She had to come down due to a safety threat caused by a nearby bushfire. Her work was appreciated and acknowledged at different platforms. Most importantly in June 2013, The World Heritage Committee extended the listed boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area by more than 170,000 hectares which also included the tree where Miranda spent more than a year, with the Australian government giving those areas the highest level of environmental protection.
Today social media is used to improve literacy, provides platforms for parents who have lost their children to violence and terrorism, helps in coordinating disaster relief funds, addresses mental health issues, human rights, and empowers women to come forward and share stories of mental and physical abuse. With the introduction of low cost smartphones powered with fast and accessible internet, content creators have the power to reach the maximum number of people in the world. Similarly, citizen journalism is on the rise and we are not merely dependent on mainstream media to highlight certain issues; common people are taking initiatives and leading from the front. There is no doubt that the world of social media is polluted with discrimination, hatred and fake news but we have to remember that it is an evolving world, systems are being developed to tackle and address those issues and it is high time that we accept it and give this the value it deserves. Social media management is a lot more than just posting on different forums; it is an art of creating and communicating messages that have a lasting and powerful impact. Just ask the Arab world how it has literally changed the geographical and social dynamics of that area. One can hope that more and more people and organizations come forward and use it as a vehicle of social change and use it to come up with solutions for the environmental crisis facing the country and the world. It is only collectively that we can solve this. Nature does not care for man-made boundaries and as seen many times will retaliate with all its might when her boundaries are pushed beyond means.
Hammad Anwar works in the public sector with a special interest in storytelling through visuals. He is the founder of the digital platform Sukhan and co-founder of Mani's Cricket Myths.