By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
So reads the first stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s timeless poem “Concord Hymn,” commemorating the Battle of Concord at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
On Independence Day, we recognize the brave words and actions of those who stood up against the powerful British military to build what would later become the United States of America. This week, I would like to recognize a new tool for revolution — social media and the ways it has helped effect change throughout the world.
Bypassing government-controlled media. In oppressive regimes, the government often controls the media. The news might reference a small uprising but downplay the size of the event or alter the message the uprising may have sought to convey. With the advent of social media, citizens across the country are able to view videos of the events and share them with their friends and family. Suddenly the “small uprising” has become a popular movement that the controlling party can’t ignore.
Conducting open political discourse. In countries with repressive regimes, open discussion on politics is forbidden. As a result, thoughts remain as thoughts alone and are never discussed with others. Prohibiting political discourse keeps citizens isolated and prevents them from potentially pushing their government for change. Social media allows citizens to see that others share their thoughts and emboldens the public to take action.
Reaching a global audience. When the Mubarak regime of Egypt sought to quiet the revolutionary voices by shutting down access to the Internet, leaders around the world responded with outrage. When the Assad regime in Syria fired chemical weapons into neighborhoods, citizens the world over reacted in horror at videos of women and children suffering from the effects. Social media allows local oppression to reach a global audience.
Of course, social media doesn’t deserve all the credit for the recent revolutions; the courage and determination of the revolutionaries are just as important. Still, the power of social media to communicate and organize has proven mightier than the sword and helped generate support for revolutions and better lives for citizens around the world.
Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable Independence Day.