It’s inarguable that social media plays an important role in our lives – whether it’s keeping in touch with friends, organizing a family get-together, or simply scrolling through posts, social media has wedged itself into practically every aspect of our existence. But when you think of social media, what image comes to mind when you think about its typical user? While social media is an important part of American life, it also plays an important role in third-world countries.
Take the Arab Spring for example. In 2011, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shut down the internet for five days with the hopes of thwarting any anti-government sentiment. During the five days, his plan was successful – but the shutdown cost an estimated $90 million, and in the days after, social media exploded. In the days leading up to the protests that would be known as the Arab Spring, 32,000 Facebook groups and 14,000 Facebook pages popped up, and protest plans became commonplace on sites like Facebook. These protests, of course, led to the overthrowing of a corrupt and out-of-touch government.
Protests aside, there are a myriad of other reasons people in developing countries use social media. On a single-user basis, Internet users in developing countries are eager to test out new technologies. Just as social media allows for Americans to share ideas, stories, and illuminate misdeeds on a variety of levels, the same can be done in Cambodia (for example.) Highlighting different points of view and ways of life yields a better understanding of the human condition – and struggle – and can help Internet users become more worldly citizens.
There are differences, however, in the way information is shared in different countries. In the United States, users have access to devices with HD cameras and livestreaming technology – in Uganda, for example, this is not as common. Whereas American users opt for a more visual experience, information in developing countries is shared through a primarily textual channel.
Dog videos and political rants aside, perhaps the most important facet of social media in developing countries is that it gives a voice to the voiceless. Otherwise isolated from what you and I may deem “the civilized world,” there is rarely a chance for someone to share their story or join conversations about important issues when they live outside the bubble that is America. Looking at a map of the world, it becomes quite apparent that Africa, South America, or even China are far away. Hundreds of years ago, it would take months on a boat to learn information about those places – but today, that information can be received with the click of a button.