Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views here.
He told me: “Like most technologies, the hashtag itself is a neutral amplifier.”
“Wielded effectively — he said — it can spark conversations or revolutions, or can be used to mislead or obfuscate. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that social media is a reflection of the people who use it and the contexts in which they’re found.”
Talking about the nature of the hashtag, he said: “Broadly speaking, any technology that helps give a larger number of people a voice efficiently and economically is a good thing; then, once it’s been adopted widely, the challenge is to hone its use to increase social and cultural benefit.”
“Hashtags are useful for targeting messages and bringing together topical conversations. Whether the specific uses are good or evil is a matter of perspective.”
The interview also touched upon free speech and power… And believe it or not, even fake news. Again, it was 2014, but the conversation is still very relevant today.
“There are people in positions of power with varying levels of technological sophistication,” Chris told me.
“In some cases, the availability of free social media represents the same kind of threat that a free press does. In these contexts, the free press struggles to exist, and the same is often true of social media.”
When those in power are used to controlling how information flows, the hypersonic speed of information through social media means that unverifiable information can spread unchecked. When a population has not built up a sufficient skepticism of what they read, such information can lead to instability or overreaction.
Chris pointed out that “the use of hashtags is still relatively new, and requires a great deal of technical proficiency and awareness.”
“First — he said — you have to really use a computer, more likely a mobile device. Then you have to be aware of the internet and how it works, and then you have to understand how people consume and use social media. You then need to have some sense for the difficulty of targeting content on social media, or of having your content be found by others, and then you have to understand that the simple use of the # symbol will create a clickable link in your content.
He added: “That’s a lot to understand, let alone do effectively.”
“Many of us take this knowledge for granted, but as I said, the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed — and this knowledge gap also plays into why people fear social media, and why they act to shut it down, or censor it. Some know very well what’s at stake, and want to maintain their control over how information is shared and spread. Others, in seeking to control what they don’t understand, act out of fear and ignorance — attempting to take away the advantage that others may have over them.”
I can’t agree with Chris more: “This is why digital literacy is so important — and I believe we are still at the very beginning of informing the world of what technology is, what it can do, and how to use it for the best possible outcomes for humanity.”
Food for thought!
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