The power of social media

The power of social media

13th August 2013 by Natalie Burns

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Long hailed as useful channels for breaking news and creating discussion and debate about issues, various social media sites have seen themselves in the headlines over the past few weeks – and it has not all been good.

After a brilliantly orchestrated digital and social media campaign to call for women’s representation on bank notes (resulting in the Bank of England announcing that Jane Austen would replace Charles Darwin from 2017), Caroline Criado-Perez, the woman behind it, started receiving abusive messages on Twitter. This was shortly followed by the tragic story of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who took her own life after suffering cyber-bullying on Ask.fm. Several companies pulled adverts, as the Prime Minister called for an ‘irresponsible websites’ boycott.

Celebrities and feminist writers have long been experiencing misogynistic and abusive messages (known colloquially as ‘trolling’), but the strength of feeling about the volume and content of the abuse levelled at Cricado-Perez, led to some calling for a one-day boycott of the site. The ensuing #Twittersilence on 4 August, divided the social media community – between those who felt it was a useful protest against the perceived lack of action on Twitter’s behalf to deal with the issue, and those who felt that women should not be silenced and should speak out together.

Social and digital media – from Twitter to e-petition platforms such as UKChange.org – has been instrumental in highlighting issues and calling for change. At its best it is a democratising tool, allowing people to share their views and engage directly with businesses, politicians and celebrities; giving a voice to the voiceless. Charities and campaigners have been using it successfully to raise awareness of everything from violence against women and girls and everyday sexism to spending cuts and corporation tax. At its worst, cyberspace appears unruly, lawless and angry; giving users anonymity and allowing a culture of unacceptable behaviour. Social media sites and web hosting platforms alike are now looking at how to better protect people online.

At Women of the Year, we use Twitter to celebrate inspiring women; to add our voice to campaigns for equality and better, safer lives for women both in the UK and further afield; and to engage with many more people than we would be able to off-line. You can find us @womenofyear (and also on Facebook or YouTube). We believe that social media is largely a force for good and we hope that women the world over will continue to use it to share their stories, campaign for change and make their voices heard, free from abuse and intimidation.


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