Social Media and Change
Whether or not you’ve turned on a TV or seen a newspaper lately, the chances are you’ve heard about what’s happening in Hong Kong. Dubbed ‘the world’s politest protestors’ the streets have been filled day and night with students, workers, faith representatives and many more who want change in their city. They face a huge and powerful opposition yet are peaceful and resolute in insisting things must be different. Their bravery and determination are inspiring. Photos and videos of their demonstrations are being passed around the world as emblematic images of resistance, and the power of social media is helping in more ways than one. Images are not only being disseminated through easily accessible sites on handy devices, the technology is also a striking feature of the pictures themselves. People in their thousands illuminate their phones, lighting up the crowds, and creating powerful images in the process. A quick search of #OccupyHK shows how the intentionally peaceful movement – originally billed as ‘Occupy Central with love’ – has taken on a strongly symbolic visual identity. The metaphors are clear and globally resonant: light in the darkness, the power of a shared vision as pinpricks of light create a constellation of resistance night after night.
It is possible for anyone with a phone and connectivity anywhere in the world to stand with them in spirit. Hashtags unite protestors and sympathisers, meaning messages are shared quickly and easily and momentum builds at breath-taking speed. Specially created sites offer the chance to anyone online to directly communicate with the demonstrators, and offer encouragement and support. Bypassing reliance on traditional media, protestors offer free translation services to journalists via Facebook and Twitter to ensure their messages are not distorted. It is a well-managed, carefully organised, thus far civilised revolution and a moving reminder of the power of determined people prepared to stand up and be counted.
What Occupy Hong Kong demonstrates, among many things, is the continuing importance of social media in bringing about change. For anyone involved in working towards changed communities on a global or micro scale, the tools of relationship and solidarity building are freely available in ways unthinkable even a decade ago. The ease with which visions can be shared and ideas disseminated means like-minded people who may live in the same street but have never spoken can find they share common goals to change their part of the world for the better. Social media offers opportunities for conversation and idea sharing that can spark movements. For faith-based social action the added dimensions of reaching out beyond traditional cultural and geographical boundaries adds an extra incentive. As the brave people of Hong Kong have demonstrated, the willingness to leave our homes and routines and work together must follow, but for all who want to see change the power that social media puts in the hands of the many is there to be taken.