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How Social Media Helps Political Reform

Crowds celebrate the release of Wael Ghuneim in Egypt. [Photo]

Social Media can be an extremely powerful tool to help a cause, including political reform.  

University of Illinois at Urbana professor Dennis Baron, in his article, Reforming Egypt in 140 Characters, gives credit to Twitter for helping to depose Hosni Mubarak and for helping to oust Ben Ali from Tunisia. 

Many of us remember the tweets that came out of Iran during their protests as part of the Arab Spring events that swept across the Middle East. Unfortunately, no change in the leadership took place in Iran.

The Middle East is not the only place where social media has been involved in political reform, however. 

Earlier this year, a new study came out evaluating the activities of students in Chile using social media between 2009-2012 to influence the political arena. That study references over 30 other studies on the subject of social media and political reform.

It can be difficult, even dangerous in some cases to use social media in this manner. 

In the case of the Egyptian revolution, Wael Ghuneim, a Google employee in Cairo, was imprisoned by the government for showing support for the opposition on Facebook.

Some governments simply deny access to sites. 

In China, they banned people from using Weibo, a popular platform that is similar to Twitter. Those banned included bloggers and activists that were disapproved of by the rulers in power.

North Korea has even gone so far as to tell locals that help journalists that take unapproved video accountable. Despite the threats, reporters photographed life in the reclusive country and shared them worldwide.

Earlier this year, Associated Press journalist Jean H. Lee used Instagram to export images that his military handlers would probably not have approved.

Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder also used Instagram to share pictures he took in North Korea. He wrote:

In the past I could post geolocated phone photos to my Instagram feed by turning my online laptop into a hotspot to link my iPhone or iPod touch by wifi. But, today I’m posting this directly from my phone while riding in the back of a van in #Pyongyang.

The next time that someone tells you that social media is for playing Farmville, to help businesses sell more or for friends to reconnect, tell them that it can make a real difference to people and how they live their lives.

Joe Yeager is a marketing analyst and social media administrator for a leading B2B manufacturer in the professional dental market. He is also a freelance writer and adjunct faculty member. Please follow his tweets at @JosephMYeager.