THE ubiquitous prevalence of social media as part of global technological development in the latter part of the 21st century has brought an interesting, new cyber society, writes Tswelopele Makoe …
Social media has propelled the world into a new form of expression and influence. This digital world in which we all engage has not only assisted us to navigate inaccessible spaces but greatly diminished the limitations of space and time and has brought people closer together. The Social Sciences has a catchy phrase to describe this phenomenon – “the compression of time and space”.
Not only has social media consistently developed in its usage and application, but has also brought about distinctive societal changes, and exhibited its very evidential influence on our modern societies, worldwide.
Especially since the advent of the Covid-19 global pandemic, when many physical occupations were suddenly placed on hold, and many businesses were forced to close down, hordes of people including those previously indifferent to technology have taken to social media to even generate income.
The so-called “influencers” have been influential in shaping the lifestyle and buying habits of their scores of ardent followers. So important are the influencers that their role as public opinion-shapers has become a prestigious vocation. They are hired and paid handsomely by brand specialists, marketers and political organisations to influence opinions and outcomes of products and campaigns respectively.
International brands now collaborate with influencers to reach ordinary people and spread their marketing message, and their products, as well as intercept locations that they would otherwise be unable to reach. Furthermore, social media algorithms have been increasingly adapted to intentionally shape their content and advertising around the user’s online activities.
The use of these digital spaces has also allowed people from traditionally distant localities to participate in meaningful interactions and thus belong to a single, united, digital community. And, as members of the same “community”, users can form meaningful relationships with different people from diverse backgrounds.
The emergence and growing impact of digital communities have been particularly beneficial to budding academics and entrepreneurs alike who seek collaboration and exposure outside of their own physically restrictive borders.
And, within their borders, cyber-activism has been a propellant of societal transformation and central in modern-day movements. The use of digital spaces has been a key factor in rapidly and effectively spreading the news about societal issues that are often overlooked by traditional forms of media. Over and above, digital spaces have also become a pertinent platform for civic communities across dynamic societies.
The beauty of digital spaces is that they do not conform to the traditional societal hierarchies that place the most affluent at the forefront, they are dependent on the participation of the general population, the people on the ground – rich or poor. As such, they mirror a more genuine, authentic picture of society. More importantly, they are exemplary of the power of people in enforcing societal change.
This is especially evident in the ways that female social media users are utilising their platforms to voice pertinent gender equality issues, as well as confront the old stereotypes that encourage these very issues. Of course, one need not overlook the assistance brought about by the flocks of males that utilise their platforms to bring forward gender equality and transformation issues.
Cyberspaces directly influence almost all forms of entertainment, as we’ve seen through TikTok content creators. They are so powerful in that they give a voice to the voiceless – power to the powerless – and foster an environment where female empowerment is inevitably placed thrust to the forefront. This empowerment is critical in fostering an equitable and just future across all societies throughout the world.
It is through the impact of the growing digital spaces that globalisation is given effect. The world becoming one global village connected – in the main – through a handset or laptop, among others. Such is the ferocious power of technology in international development, and human evolution alike.
Tswelopele Makoe is an MA (Ethics) student at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at UWC. She is also a gender activist. The views expressed here are her own.