Mikhail Gorbachev’s “glasnost” re-defined openness in politics and thus spelled a new era in the corridors of power all over the world. This openness was manifest in transparent governmental actions and communications. Traditional media like newspapers and the television were the vehicles of communication then; social media sites have now donned the mantle. In fact, if the 2008 U.S. Presidential elections and the recent uprising in Egypt are anything to go by, then social networking sites now play pivotal part in charting the course of world politics.
Stirring speeches, fervent appeals for support, and rousing calls for change were all parts of Senator Barrack Obama’s Presidential campaigns. And so were his website soliciting support from followers; his blogs that were regularly updated by his band of campaign managers; snaps of his campaign on Flickr; his “Yes We Can” speech doing the rounds on YouTube; and the tweets that kept the public updated on the campaign and rally schedules. From Facebook and LinkedIn to MySpace and from BlackPlanet to Asian Avenue, Barrack Obama’s campaign ruled roost on multiple social networking sites and his popularity amongst the American masses were evident from the figures he notched up on these sites—more than 10,000 new friends garnered on MySpace between 3 and 4 November 2008 (the latter being the day of the elections) and 2865 new followers on Twitter during the same period.
Social networking sites have not only helped in creating governments, but have also been instrumental in overthrowing them. The revolution in Egypt in January this year had its seeds in the discontentment of the hoi polloi but was definitely fuelled by social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. During those days of revolution, bloggers, trans-national human rights activists, translators, and even social media organizations sympathetic to the cause of the common man on the streets of Egypt, used social networking sites to transmit messages from journalists, protestors, and human rights activists in Egypt. Their activities had a dual effect—the world not only got to know about the actual scenario in Egypt but also allowed people from all over the country to unite in their common cause and plan synchronized action.
The power of the social media to reach out to the masses is undeniable and it is palpable enough to dictate the rules of the game even in the world of power politics.