Can social media save the world?

Photo courtesy of Mano Amiga

Let’s be real: lately, social media has been toxic. From would be blogger-journalists, to Trump, to Eastern European troll armies of dubious origin, to even the fact that crushie has yet to heart-react to our painstakingly crafted profile pictures, it’s honestly no small wonder that the vast majority of us sensible Internet folk have retreated underground, reduced to cooing at dog photos and rough-cut food snaps.

Social media was to be, excuse the fancy talk, the purest realization of the Habermasian “public sphere”: a place for constructive discussion, free of prejudice, liberating to all.

It is the continued search for this Platonic ideal, if anything, that made Facebook’s and Mano Amiga Philippines’ “Think Before You Share” digital literacy summit so intriguing.

The summit and ideation competition, held from October 5-7, brought together student leaders, technologists, and community developers from across the nation. Pitches spanned a myriad of civic and digital campaigns addressing issues ranging from false news, to women participation in STEM fields, to animal adoption. The five best projects — Take It Topless, I Am Marshall, Inhinyeras, Prism, and TechnoLeads, respectively — each won funding and mentoring from Facebook and Mano Amiga Philippines, for launch by early 2018.

Take it Topless, run by Micah Jude Sinco from Silliman University, is a social media campaign that aims to make environmental awareness cool, and plastic beverage lids uncool. Using the hashtag — you guessed it — #TakeItTopless, and a simple snap of your lidless, “undressed” drink holder, the campaign takes advantage of the fact that provocative content sells.  

Heck, if there’s one common thing you’ll find with the campaigns that took home the bacon, it’s that knack for merging the striking, and the meaningful. Whether that be animal adoption dating apps, as proposed by student Aaron Ifurung’s I am Marshall team, or a social awareness campaign centered around the ubiquitous “Tita” persona, as proposed by Ateneo de Manila University, and Prism’s Rahn dela Cruz and Julius Sambo, it seems like the name of the game nowadays really is “translation.”

And perhaps therein really lies the power of social media, the more you think about it. Social media, much in the old vein of education, is today “the great equalizer.” Hell, some might even say that it has in many ways become our new classroom.

I mean, think about it. We get our suspension notices and homework postings online. Twitter is our first point of contact for issues such as indigenous peoples’ rights, Martial Law, and female liberation. Summit winners Inhinyeras, run by a group of five Technological Institute of the Philippines engineering students, and TechnoLeads, a news literacy campaign run by a team of five Cagayan de Oro College computer science and web development students, understand that.

Barriers that may have once been insurmountable are no longer so. This is true whether that be pervasive discrimination in STEM fields, or the ever-shifting nature of false news, or issues of consent, or environmental protection, or political division, even. The power of social media lies in its ability to challenge perceptions.

Many times the largest barriers to any concrete change in the way we think and view the world are in our inability to translate our ideals in a way that directly challenges and engages these perceptions. And the fact that the good folks over at Mano Amiga and Facebook did, or attempted to, and continue to try to do so, is perhaps what makes this exercise so promising in the first place.

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