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Over the past decade, social media has done more than just upend the traditional media ecosystem and give us new ways to communicate with anyone around the globe – it has influenced just about every aspect of business, government and society. Social media has transitioned from a “nice to have” to a “must have” for any organization looking to streamline its operations, connect with customers on a one-to-one basis, or tap into the rich datasets now available from social media platforms. Here’s a quick look at 3 surprising ways social media continues to change the world.
1 – Politics and government
Any serious political candidate these days needs a huge social media presence – just look at how influential leaders like President Donald Trump and AOC have leveraged social media to become national political figures. But the use of social media goes far beyond just the use of social media for political campaigns or political messaging. Think about the ways that social media can give birth to revolutionary political movements like the Arab Spring or the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests. Or the ways that social media has forced a new level of transparency for government leaders, and opened up new discussions about corruption.
2 – Healthcare and public health
The current coronavirus pandemic has opened up new discussions about the way that social media might be able to predict – and even prevent – the next big outbreak. Google and Apple, for example, are now coming up with a plan to track the movement of individuals diagnosed with a disease via a mobile app, and then alert those who might have come into contact with that individual. In many ways, you can thank early mobile social media platforms like Foursquare, which came up with the idea of the “check-in.” Epidemiologists are also data mining social media platforms like Twitter for insights into how seemingly random tweets (“I’m feeling a bit weak and coughing today”) might be early warning signs of a disease moving into a new geographic area.
3 – Banking, investment and finance
Social media has already had a huge impact on the financial services industry, making the whole experience of dealing with a bank much more similar to dealing with a classic consumer-facing company. It has also led to new innovations in the way we invest and finance companies, including new crowdfunding platforms, in which “the crowd” gets together and funds a concept, a company or a cause. It has also led to new social commerce innovations from social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. It’s now possible, for example, to see a pinned product on Pinterest and buy it immediately. The next great iteration, most likely, will involve new digital currency offerings, such as the proposed new Libra cryptocurrency from Facebook.
Of course, all of these social media innovations come with a caveat of some kind. Yes, social media is promoting more civic participation and making government more transparent – but it can also be used for the surveillance of citizens (as in China) or for government propaganda (as in Russia or Iran).
Yes, social media can be used to improve modern healthcare and response to health epidemics, but do we really need or want the type of “digital immunity passport” that leaders like Bill Gates are proposing? Once you’ve seen images of a man being pulled off a bus in Philadelphia for not wearing a mask in public or heard Los Angles politicians encouraging citizens to snitch on their neighbors, it’s easy to imagine how social media in the service of healthcare might go too far. Do you really want your neighbors snitching on you via social media if they see you venturing out in public without a mask?
The future of social media is wonderful, indeed. But let’s just be careful in how we view social media: it is a powerful tool, but one that must be managed carefully.