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Social Change Is Upon Us

Social Change Is Upon Us

Social Change Is Upon Us

With the advent of Facebook and Twitter over the last four years, the world has experienced a social awakening in ways never before imagined. Transparent communication and information sharing has changed and continues to change how we see our planet.

Our first two years on Facebook brought us shared baby photos, vacation snapshots, home renovation pics, and images of drunken debauchery. All well and good; part of the human experience worth sharing. Soon after came the serious information sharing, especially once Twitter arrived on the scene.

Whether it is revolution in the Middle East, the false promise of Wall Street, heated online customer feedback, debate about Canadian tax dollars funding bigotry within the Catholic school system, the ever-widening divide between rich and poor, or the measurable consequences from the energy crisis and climate change, the informed intelligence shared in new interactive social forums is contributing crucially to the collective and democratic education of the global village we call Earth.

It’s why more and more people see access to the internet as a human right.

As we have recently seen with the events unfolding in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond, social media and information networks influence and illuminate the world in real-time. Old information channels, often shaped by corporate-owned media, with their own unique agendas on the whys and hows of news sharing, have been superseded. Revolutions—and counter revolutions—occurred prior to the advent of social networks, of course, but never before have such events been transcribed and shown to a mass audience with such unfiltered immediacy.

People are learning about issues like climate change from each other, through the informed content they find and share with their peers. Since this curation of ideas is coming from friends and colleagues they trust, it provides the building blocks for consensus, which in turn can create the conditions for significant social change. As always, trust is earned, and one must be cognizant of where information is sourced—crackpots or credible commentators, CNN vs. Fox News vs. Huffington Post vs. MSNBC.

Old media has been forced to rethink and reform. Progressive Toronto journalists like Antonia Zerbisias, columnist for The Toronto Star (on Twitter, @AntoniaZ), and Doug Saunders, European bureau chief for The Globe And Mail and (@DougSaunders), embraced social media early, understanding how it can extend the reach of their work and expand their audience. By sharing their continuous research in real-time, they expose their journalistic process, providing invaluable insight to their readers. They are also creating an opportunity for those readers to feed into and engage with that research. It’s this type of global cross-pollination that I find so rewarding.

Although polarized discourse online is inevitable, my hope is that all this curating and sharing of intelligence will breed and nurture innovation in tackling Earth’s challenges. Since information sharing in the digital age knows no geographical borders, innovation may come from anywhere. Fascinating times indeed.

Michael Thorner tweets at @michaelthorner

This column originally appeared in IN Toronto Magazine, March 2011 issue.
Editor: Gordon Bowness