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Is Social Media Making the World a Better Place?

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UC Davis law professor Anupam Chander spoke to a large crowd at the California Museum on Tuesday, April 19th about the role social media has played in the recent uprisings around the globe, and how it could be a key player in making the world better.

Just prior to the professor taking the stage, a wonderful meet-and-greet was held in the lobby of the museum. Politicos, business leaders, media experts, teachers and others chatted over mouth-watering hors’doeuvres provided by Blue Prynt and wine provided by Grace Patriot Wines. Professor Chander was there to discuss a new paper that he had recently published called Googling Freedom. His presentation came in three parts: (1) is social media even related to the uprisings or is it just hype; (2) the two possible futures of the internet; and (3) the responsibilities of internet-based companies moving as they expand.

A writer at Mother Jones once said, “Twitter bears about as much responsibility for the Egyptian uprising as George Soros, Mrs. O’leary’s cow, and the flying spaghetti monster.” However, Martin Luther was able to fully vet his concerns on a singular piece of parchment, subsequently creating an entire religion with the use of the printing press (an early communications technology). And when there have been rumors of rebellion, dictators have commonly flipped the internet “kill switch” in the hopes of quelling their peoples. Now there are a multitude of options undermining the efficacy of “kill switches,” and social media platforms can still reach the rest of the world despite these efforts. Just the idea that the internet is one of the first things targeted at the beginning of a rebellion should be indication enough that it plays a key role in removing a dictator from power.

As Professor Chander sees it, there are two potential ways this internet expansion can go: the perfection of a “surveillance state” or the perfection of a “global sphere of rational discourse.” The first option, while possible, is looking more and more unlikely. Social media is pushing the world toward option two, where everyone everywhere has access to real-time on-the-ground information from around the world. This has been the case in several instances in the recent past, and hopefully will continue and expand as we move forward.

As the companies who run these websites move forward, what should be the guiding principle of their business strategies? In the past, it has been the maximization of shareholder wealth. Companies are increasingly worried about their public image in an age of increased transparency, and so the at-all-costs method of increasing wealth may not work for much longer. Now companies are more likely to be moralistic in their decision-making, and make efforts to be seen as improving the communities in which they operate. Not to worry, shareholders – you’re still number one, but society will now come in at a much closer second place.

Professor Chander closed with some Q&A, and then, as is the tradition of the Sacramento Social Media Club, a door prize raffle was held. Door prizes are donated by local businesses and organizations and the prizes included free California Museum annual memberships and Jiffylube gift certificates.

The Social Media Club will be hosting their next event this Tuesday, May 17th at The Urban Hive beginning at 6:30 pm. "Social Media ROI: Is it Measurable?" will feature a panel of social media experts who will weigh in on best practices and new methods of measurement. For more information or to register for this event, click here.

About Sacramento Social Media Club
The Sacramento chapter of the Social Media Club is part of an international organization of more than 100 active chapters around the globe hosting conversations that explore key issues facing our society as technologies transform the way we connect, communicate, collaborate and relate to each other. Founded in April of 2009, Sacramento Social Media Club (SMCSac) has become the centerpiece for regional gatherings surrounding the subject of social media. SMCSac is devoted to expanding media literacy, sharing lessons among social media practitioners, encouraging adoption of industry standards and promoting ethical practices though discussion and actions. Additional information about the Sacramento Chapter and upcoming events is available at http://www.facebook.com/SMCSAC.

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