Social media has a big impact on (most) of our everyday lives. According to Facebook, they currently have 800 million users worldwide, with about 400 million of those users logging on every day. Though its numbers are significantly smaller, Twitter, with about 56 million active users, is also a force to be reckoned with.
For the most part, social media is used for oodles of fun things — keeping up with friends and family, making and revealing relationships, showing off pictures of your nom-worthy meal, and, of course, harmless stalking — but with so many different users adding to the mix, we are finding that it is becoming increasingly popular to use social media in more significant ways.
One of the more apparent and most publicized uses of social media in a serious situation was during the recent revolution in Egypt. Facebook and Twitter became sounding boards for people who opposed Mubarak. The conversations on Facebook and Twitter turned into a spark that started a full-fledged revolution to take down the regime. To this day, Egyptians are still using social media to “keep the momentum going” for positive change in their country.
Another example of social media being used during a difficult circumstance hits close to home. In September 2011, fires broke out all around Central Texas, leaving hundreds of people without homes in Bastrop and other neighboring towns. When the fires were spreading, hundreds of ranchers, farmers and animal owners or friends of these people turned to social media for help. Messages about horses needing shelter and groups providing information for victims quickly appeared and circulated around Facebook. One of the most compelling groups that I saw was dedicated to returning pets to their owners. The group posted pictures of animals found in and around Bastrop in hopes that they would be able to reunite with their owners.
The fires affected thousands of people around our area and even I had a personal experience using social media during that time. While the Bastrop fire was raging, several fires broke out around Austin. My boyfriend was following Twitter closely to find out where fires were being reported. One day, he called to tell me that there were tweets coming in reporting a fire very close to my brother’s house.
I immediately called my brother who actually didn’t even know about the fire, even though it was only a couple of blocks away. For the next several hours, we watched Twitter, trusting a community of strangers to give us real-time updates on what was happening. Later that afternoon, we found out through several reports on Twitter that the fire had been extinguished. Had we relied solely upon on the news, we wouldn’t have known any of this.
Social media has proven to be a very useful tool during circumstances like these. It allows individuals to engage in their community to make significant changes, prevent serious things from happening and/or find solutions to real problems. Everyone has a voice with social media that might not be heard otherwise.