Andrew Lam analyzes the negative effects of social media on worldwide social movements in his article From Arab Spring to Autumn Rage: The Dark Power of Social Media. In the article, Lam brings attention to the extreme powers of social media. On one hand, it can turn one man setting himself on fire into a multi-national revolution—the Arab Spring of 2011. In 2011, a Tunisian fruit vendor did so in a desperate attempt to protest ongoing police corruption. Onlookers recorded the incident on their cell phones and shared their videos with the world via social media. And so began the domino revolutions seeking to overthrow suppressive Middle Eastern governments. In this case, posts to sites such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook were the most powerful tools employed by the revolutionists when their respective governments tried their best to quiet the voices of these people.
Fast forward one year, an unknown filmmaker decides to use social media to disseminate his beliefs via a low budget anti-Islamic movie whose trailer he decides to post on YouTube. In the video, the filmmaker identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula by the U.S. government, essentially mocks and insults the prophet Mohammed. Similarly as with the 2011 anti government protests, Arabs from various countries subsequently took to the streets rioting in anger over the video resulting in the planned murder of Chris Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya—a country which he helped liberate just one year prior from its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
Lam argues that social media has caused an unknown filmmaker to represent his entire country. It’s no longer just the heads of state with such power. A nobody can post a short video that pushes the right—or should I say wrong—buttons which can lead to horrific consequences. He writes, “The film and its 13 minute YouTube trailer quickly undermined much of the United States’ soft diplomacy in a region it considers of utmost importance.”
I believe that while social media can have numerous positive effects on societies, it can also become a most toxic tool. Unfortunately, our belief in free speech is not a right available to a large portion of the world’s population. By exercising this right in our country but via world wide social platforms, we impose our free beliefs on cultures who may be easily offended and angered, willing to die for their religious beliefs for example. The question then is: is there anything that can be done to prevent tragedies such as the murder of an innocent U.S. Ambassador because of a video posted by a nobody?