Social media is now a part of everyday life for millions of people across the world and even more so for young people. Organizers behind the 2012 Olympic Games in London aim to capture this momentum by integrating services like Facebook and Twitter into this summer's games. There are already four official Twitter accounts associated with the event, a Youtube channel, Facebook page, Flickr slideshow, iPhone app, the list goes on and on. This led many new media experts to dub this year's games the first "social Olympics." In addition to the growth of social media accounts, including a 29,900% increase in Twitter profiles, the way people access the internet and social media sites in particular has also changed since the 2008 Beijing Games. Non-traditional computing devices such as smartphones now also permeate throughout technology markets. If you listen closely, you can probably hear the trademark iPhone text message noise in your office right now. Check out this infographic from iProspect about changing social media habits since 2008:
Social media is also taking on a larger role in the human rights advocacy community. From facilitating policy discussions to organizing "tweetups," organizations are more fully utilizing the growing internet population. The idea of online activism received tremendous attention and criticism when San Diego-based Invisible Children released a short film called KONY 2012. The video primarily relied on IC's extensive online network of activists to sign an online petition and buy "action kits" with posters, stickers, and other apparel. While garnering an unprecedented amount of views, a follow-up event dubbed "Cover the Night" was less successful because IC lacked a sufficient grassroots constituency. There are many lessons to be learned from the KONY2012 experiment, but most importantly it demonstrated the necessity of a robust offline community.
Recent protests in Sudan against Omar al-Bashir's regime are effectively using social media to amplify their voices. The #SudanRevolts hashtag on Twitter, used by protest organizers and conflict analysts, successfully made the jump from an online phenomenon to an offline rallying cry. Now, many people outside of Sudan are aware of their efforts and are able to get instant updates about extrajudicial arrests and other injustices. Other uses of social media such as crowd-sourced conflict updates, civil society amplification, and inclusive policy discussions can be (and are currently) effective uses of social media used by organizations of all sizes. If used smartly and coupled with effective advocacy, the power of social media moving forward is #virtuallylimitless.