Hugo Pinto

Innovation, Strategy, Technology, Data @IBM Interative Experience

Power to the people: 3 effects of the growth of #socialmedia

In the past few days a huge social media movement has risen about baby Gammy – the six-month-old child allegedly abandoned by an Australian couple because he has Down’s syndrome. He was born along with it’s healthy twin from a surrogate mom in Thailand, which was accepted by the parents, and was taken to Australia, while baby Gammy was left behind.

The shocking story has generated a lot of momentum and social media (especially Facebook) has had a key role to play. It has changed the way the power of the information is shifting from the media to anyone with something relevant to say and others are wanting to hear. I see three effects of the mass adoption of social media portrayed in this case.

1. POWER SHIFT

Without Social Media, traditional media probably wouldn’t have picked up this story. Although this is a very serious problem with the rise of surrogacy services in Asian countries, these types of events have happened in the past, and gone totally unnoticed. Social Media is helping shift the power back to the people – the power to complaint about something wrong, and allowing normal people to come forward and make their voices and opinions matter. Businesses now have something they must master instead of controlling.

A funny (and stupid) example is the Yelp-gate scandal with The Union Street Guest House in upstate New York charging wedding couples $500 for each negative Yelp review their guests left on the social network. Talk about social hara-kiri.

2. CROWDSOURCING

The baby has a lung infection and a congenital heart disease and needs a lot of expensive medical care – and social media allowed people to pitch in and help raise the amount on Gofundme.com enough to guarantee that care. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding are children of the social revolution allowing virality to earned media, instead of payed or owned media. They asked for 200.000$ and are already over 234.000$ in a couple of weeks.

20 years ago the difficulty was getting access to funding, even if you had the most groundbreaking idea. Nowadays social media has enabled crowdfunding to become a 5 Billion USD in 2013, and even a potato salad got over 55K funding!

3. TRANSPARENCY

There is still a need to confirm everything that’s been going around in the news, social media posts and all the rumors and speculations around this very real case. The issues I see regarding transparency are two: how do the parents expect to stay anonymous with millions of social media entrepreneurs crowdsourcing to unveil the truth, and the second one is the truth is the only option social media gives you as an active digital and also non-digital citizen.

If you take a quick read on the comments of the Gofundme website, you can see people have taken up sides, and are identifying other people that have taken extreme positions about the rights and obligations each of the sides have or should have.

SMILE, YOU’RE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Googling or facebooking someone has now become standard practice, and social networks demand that you use real identities.

Users must be aware of the consequences of being on social media, expressing opinions and respecting (or not) the rights of everyone around them – in other words, what everyone should do in life.

These are only a few examples of how deep social media is changing the way we live our lives, and want it or not, it’s growingly reflecting on what goes on in the non-digital world, and the data discussions are the reflection of this. The power is shifting, for good and bad depending on the examples.

There are a lot of risks and consequences we’re only starting to understand and tackle – the right to be forgotten is one of them – but one thing is certain, there’s a shift in the power of media, and maybe it’s time to start thinking on crowd-writing and how to leverage the fact people now have a chance to be heard, no matter where they are or what class they belong to.

Maybe that’s a possible way to bring back the relevancy of politics and engage people, especially younger generations that use social media (and other digital services) to express their views and beliefs!

To tie the knot, I’ll share one of my favorite examples of late, when House of Cards reporter Zoe Barns (Zoe Mara’s character) warns an abusive boss about: “What you say to me, you say to a thousand people following me on twitter”.

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