2011 is the Year of Social Media in Asia

Social media is on the rise. Whether it’s a new app running on the Facebook platform, or an entirely new social networking service (like Google+), it seems 2011 is the year when social media really shined. This is well-exemplified in how social media played a big part in a handful of issues that were relevant on a global scale — like the Arab Spring, Occupy movements, and national elections in some countries.

James Craven, managing director of Tech Wire Asia’s parent company Hybrid News, points out how 2011 “will be remembered as the year when social media gave voice to some of the world’s most disenfranchised people,” in the final session of the World Bloggers Summit in Malaysia.

In this Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012 photo, Syrian protesters wave a revolutionary flag during a demonstration in Idlib, Syria. President Bashar Assad's government vowed Sunday to continue its crackdown on a nearly 11-month-old uprising that has become one of the deadliest of the Arab Spring.(AP Photo)

Giving the Marginalized a Voice

While social networks and applications have existed for almost a decade now (even further back, depending on how you define “social media”), it does seem that it was last year when social media users really tested the mettle of social apps and services. 2011 meant “heady times for social media and Asia’s politics scene.” In Singapore, for example, the use of social media has given marginal or independent politicians a voice. Twitter and Facebook also played a big part in the Arab uprisings in that year.

But it’s not always a bed of roses for social networks in the region, given concerns about censorship and control of information. We know that China is notorious for its censorship policies, to the extent of establishing its so-called Great Firewall of China, through which all (legal) information flows. Other countries have likewise followed suit, to some extent, like Thailand and India, which have been in approval of Twitter’s plan to selectively censor tweets.

A Continuing Challenge

It’s still a challenge, both for social media users and those who run the social networks. Even with China banning Twitter and Facebook, the country has one of the most active social networking scenes, and users have perhaps adjusted to the strict information regime, and are making sure their voices are heard without necessarily offending those in power. Is the spirit of social media still alive in this sense?

For those intent on better-harnessing the power of social media in their organizations — whether political or not — James gives a few tips, which include transparency, engagement, relevance, and an understanding of the nuances of each social networking application. Blogs are given a particular highlight, because of the wide misuse by organizations as mere PR outlets rather than journals that present personal views and standpoints. (You can check out a few soundbytes here.)

In the end, the rise of social media opens up more questions and challenges than answers. “[T]his watershed represents a whole new world of challenges, and a whole new range of opportunities for the flow of information in a truly global online social village.” Let’s take these as opportunities to learn and to shape our world — virtual or real — for the better.