How Social Media Has Affected History through Current Events

Dallas Mercurio '20, Assistant Editor

In this Age of Information, with access to the current events of the world constantly at our fingertips, technology has most definitely played a major role in recent news. From videos exposing police brutality or racist ranters, to hearing the screams of Parkland children during the terrifying, violent shooting, the sharing of news and tragedy has never been easier than today. Besides the obvious privacy concerns, this integration of technology into our daily lives changes not only the way news is shared, but sometimes our tool of social media also majorly influences current events.

December 18, 2010; Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia: A young fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, lighted himself on fire in front of a government building as a protest. This act of defiance resonated with the people of the town, and protests ensued that day, spreading like wildfire through the Arab internet after being captured on cell phone video. Anti-regime protests began popping up around the country in the following days and a month later results were seen: the president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia. Protests against oppressive regimes and for better living conditions erupted across the Middle East, a desire for change surfing through social media sites such as Facebook. Major and minor protests rippled throughout Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara; major civil uprisings roiled in Bahrain and Syria; and in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, oppressive regimes were ousted by riots and protesters. No matter the different results of the 2011 Arab Spring, one major thing in each country can be taken away from the first ever “Facebook Revolution”: the fuel of democratic ideals and wishes for change could now be spread by one “like” or “repost” at a time, forever installing the tool of social media in current events.

More recently, social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, played an influential role in the United States 2016 Presidential Election. With the well known data leak scandal on Facebook, and the Russian bot influence on both Twitter and “Big Brother” Facebook, the current events leading up to and after the 2016 election have been greatly influenced by social media.

Many know about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal in which an estimated 87 million users’ data (mainly users from the U.S.) was purchased by, and shared with, clients such as the 2016 Trump campaign (which the Cambridge Analytica organization has specifically counted among their clients). This information was used to feed political advertisements to users in key swing states in order to sway their presidential votes. Another way both Twitter and Facebook were used to influence the election was with Russian bot users, who organized radical political protests for both parties, and collected more data about politically vocal users. In both instances, the data collected was utilized to personalize advertisements to change minds or radicalize people in their political beliefs.

With many not trusting Facebook anymore, due to multiple breaches of user’s privacy, Twitter has emerged with a powerful role in current events, especially in the United States. Since the election in 2016, the current president has been using Twitter to voice his private and political opinions in under 280 words. His infamous tweets are often grammatically incorrect (example: covfefe) and sometimes erratic, referring to a diverse array of topics from Kanye West to North Korea. Specifically, the messages about world leaders, such as Kim Jong-Un (a.k.a. “Little rocket man”), and international policy, such as jabs at the Paris Climate Accords, have brought much worry about the motives and power entrusted in President Donald Trump.

Twitter has directly influenced current events as they occur in real time by creating a platform to rectify injustices in the United States. During the first immigration ban of select predominantly Muslim countries and Syrian refugees, many of those affected were stuck in U.S. airports, being denied access to their waiting families and loved ones. Due to the rapid sharing of this news on Twitter, protestors gathered immediately at the airports to peacefully fight the travel ban. Also, thanks to Twitter, human rights lawyers made contact with the affected people and began working on their cases to gain entry into the United States. After much public outcry, the first immigration ban was repealed, but has been followed by a second and third version of the executive order, the third version of which is currently being upheld by the Supreme Court.

After the Valentine’s Day shooting earlier this year, phone videos were spread across the internet of the horrific episode of gun violence. However, this is not the end of social media’s influence regarding the shooting. Social media has also been used by the teenage student body of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school to incite change regarding gun laws in the state of Florida. They have been successful, to a degree. Because of the rallying cry of the Parkland students, gun law reforms have been passed in the states of Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Florida. Currently the Parkland students are utilizing social media to spread voter awareness as they travel the country, urging people to register to vote.

October 15, 2017: The actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the message, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” This simple sixteen word message ignited the famous #MeToo movement. Thousands of men and women began candidly opening up about their sexual harassment and assault experiences on social media, all wanting to let each other know that no one is alone. This hashtag has circulated around social media apps such as Twitter and Instagram, with stories ranging from ordinary people to well known celebrities. The #MeToo movement also played a role in the recent judicial hearing of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was, at the time, a Supreme Court Justice Nominee supported by President Trump. Three women, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick, and, most notably, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, came out with sexual harassment and assault accusations against Mr. Kavanaugh. With this news spreading faster than wildfire through Twitter and other social media outlets, protests erupted and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Protestors gathered outside the office of Senator Jeff Flake, a key vote to sway against the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. After the Arizona senator released a statement saying that he would support Kavanaugh, two protestors, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, confronted him on an elevator and made an extremely emotionally moving appeal for him to vote against Brett Kavanaugh. This encounter, which was made possible by the rapid sharing of news on Twitter, influenced Jeff Flake’s “definite yes” to become a “yes, with conditions.” The conditions of which demanded a FBI investigation into the sexual harassment charges against Brett Kavanaugh.

Although Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed as a Justice, although federal gun regulation is still not at the standard of safety many demand, although the Executive Order 13780 (the Immigration and Travel ban) is still upheld by the Supreme Court, and although human rights violations occur all throughout the world, social media has majorly influenced the outcome of historical events. The increased involvement of the tool of communication known as social media will continue to make a mark on the events of this era and those of the future.