In the 1970s, thinkers from different countries – notably Paulo Freire (Brazil) and Jür- gen Habermas (Germany) – outlined the vision of social communication as a horizontal dialogue free from power, control and domination strategies. With the launch of the internet in the 1990s, this vision became a tangible reality. Facebook and Twitter created networks open to all, where information circulates freely, with no filters imposed from above by political or economic power structures.
More and more people spend an increasing amount of time on social media and online platforms. Anyone wishing to disseminate information quickly, mobilise people and influence public opinion cannot afford to ignore the social media. Cooperation organisations and institutions, both private and public, have also invested in the creation of blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube channels in order to raise their profile on the global information market and spread awareness of their goals and concerns, particularly among young people.
The potential of social media for the purposes of C4D is increasingly recognised and exploited, as social media have multiplied the diversity of communication channels as well as the opportunities for interaction with the general public. From a C4D perspective we can distinguish three functions or opportunities offered by social media:
Social media democratise opinion-making
Until recently, a small number of journalists and editors of major newspapers and television networks decided what was newsworthy. The advent of the internet put an end to this de facto information monopoly exercised by the traditional media. Today an internet connection is all that is needed to disseminate information, report social injustices or launch debates across national borders. Citizen journalism increases the offer of information and contributes to public opinion-making from the bottom- up.
Social media empower people
Ethnic, social and cultural minorities which are geographically dispersed or economically excluded can become integrated and empowered through the web. Social media provide them with platforms to develop a shared vision of their goals, organise self- help and strengthen a common identity.
Social media mobilise people around a common issue
Through social media, isolated individuals who share a common objective can very rapidly become social forces capable of influencing institutional and corporate policymaking. The costs of disseminating information have reduced drastically. Today even smaller organisations are able to launch awareness campaigns – which formerly only wealthy associations could afford due to the high costs involved. Thanks to their mobilising capacity, social media strengthen the power of citizens vis-à-vis the state and corporate interests.