In what ways can online communities foster knowledge, learning, understanding and citizenship?
Over the last couple of years we have seen social media used to develop community connections and subsequent learning. I personally am part of a PLN (Personalise Learning Network) where, on twitter, I follow selected educators and regularly read Blogs that are significant to my interests. I too am part of their PLN and consequently when I blog (which is directly connected to my twitter feed) or tweet I have people within my network who respond. Similarly when they tweet I respond, it is very much a two way relationship. To be very honest I have learnt a large amount from my PLN and have found it to be a confirming environment when one is trying new and innovative things. One of the hashtags I regularly follow is that of #elemchat, I find it challenging and it provides good connections and perspectives.
Being an active member of a community online immediately brings about citizenship as one is an inhabitant of a space with others. From this can activism and social change be effectively implemented via the use of social media? It is evident through political campaigns and social uprisings like those seen in Egypt that this is possible, but equally so there have been potential moments like the Kony 2012 campaign that rapidly fizzled – see Harvey’s article in the Daily Telegraph. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/insider/how-kony-hashed-things-up/story-e6frewt9-1226335170068 .
As with any community there needs to be well thought out strategy to enable change and engagement to occur, and this is just as important when using social media as in the face to face setting. It is all built around social capital, as has been displayed by Obama’s use of social media (Levinson, 2009). Kony 2012 was an example of how things didn’t follow through to the end, some would suggest that this was due to the target audience and their lack of immediate connection to the issue or commitment to the cause, others would suggest that it was a result of lack of legitimacy and others would argue that those instigating the plan were not well equipped. If you do a twitter search #kony you will quickly discover that what was once a strong campaign is now used as a joke. The other hashtag #stopkony is still being used but is essentially meaningless.
With regard to activism at the level we have seen in Egypt, Libya and Syria there are many impactors that limit or enable the use of social media. These are driven by access and in many cases this access is bound up in government decision making, which is underpinned by cultural ideals and beliefs (Sander, 2011). Social media certainly is a valuable tool in creating connections and providing information, but it alone will not create social change. It is after all only a tool, it is the people and their use of it that makes it powerful.
Harvey., C. How Kony hashed things up. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/insider/how-kony-hashed-things-up/story-e6frewt9-1226335170068
Levinson, P. (2009). New new media. Boston: Pearson. (Chapter 12: New New Media and the Election of 2008).
Sander., T. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube’s role in Arab Spring (Middle East uprisings) http://socialcapital.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/twitter-facebook-and-youtubes-role-in-tunisia-uprising/