Some foreign policy experts are tracing the revolution in Tunisia to the pervasiveness of social media, but a smart commentary on the radio program “On the Media” last week puts the dynamism of popular, modern “movements,” particularly in the Arab world, where it belongs: with active citizens who consume a wide range of media to level information asymmetries and engage like-minded people.
Foreign Policy magazine blogger Mark Lynch clearly points out that new media can help the disaffected organize rapidly, respond more dynamically to political might, and use compelling visual images to galvanize people around a cause. But the new media tools in and of themselves are not the cause for a revolution.
Lynch says: “Calling Tunisia a “Twitter Revolution” is simplistic, but even skeptics have to recognize that the new media environment mattered. I would suggest that analysts not think about the effects of the new media as an either/or proposition (“Twitter vs. Al Jazeera”), but instead think about new media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SMS, etc.) and satellite television as collectively transforming a complex and potent evolving media space.”
Pervasiveness of information, images, data, and now more recently – confidential documents – is challenging corporations, politicians and others to rethink how they engage stakeholders and citizens in a conversation about their decisions and the impact they have on broader society. Still, the fact remains that unreasonable use or abuse of power in today’s world is bound to get immediate attention so it’s wise to think about reputation and credibility long before you’re put in a position where “secrets” are cast onto the Internet.
We can use social media to build support for opinions, but it is often the actions of governments or businesses that can prompt a negative rant or tap into deeper seated disaffection that goes “viral” in no time. So, it’s important to remember that media – old or new – remains the tool for distributing the message, not creating it.