The popularity of social media is constantly increasing amongst Internet users and these mediums are taking over as primary communication channels and main hubs for news search. According to Clay Shirky’s argument, social media and fundamentally the Internet could be used to promote peace and provide incentives for people to organize and participate in events that relate to their interests.
A first example of how the use of social media can spread the news incredibly fast in Greece dates back in 2008. On the night of December 6th an unexpected round of violent street protests that captured once more the international attention, burst throughout the country. This time, the protests were in the name of a 15 year old teenager, Alexis Grigoropoulos, who died unjustifiably from a police officer’s bullet. Teenagers used social portals to express their frustration towards the event and organize protesting waves. In fact the first riots started within a few hours after the event – even before the media had a chance to communicate any sort of information on the tragic incident.
The use of social media to organize protests can be a positive asset since that is how the Arab Spring was organized and spread. Via social media now everyone has the ability to become a news broadcaster contributing via mainstream media, which also have the power to set the news agenda. The idea of using social media for a cause has become the trend since then across the world. The example of the Arab Spring was followed by the Spanish “Indignados” (indignant), the Greek “Aganaktismenoi” (outraged), which then transformed into the Occupy movement. Regardless of the connection between the causes supported in each initiative of such nature it is important to acknowledge the incredible power of social media and what can be achieved if they are used properly.
As Farell and Drezner argue, blogs are important for their indirect impact as they tend to “influence important actors within mainstream media who in turn frame issues for a wider public”. As such, a tremendous source of influence on the average perception of the economic crisis by Greeks, lies beneath local news blogs such as tromaktiko (scary), sibilla, press.gr, or kafeneio.gr (coffee shop) which have extended readership among Greeks on a daily basis.
In a digital era, people seek for alternative sources of information on current events. People also look to create solutions to facilitate their information updates. For example, the Greeks built an electronic platform to monitor the riots and demonstrations www.apergia.gr (strike) since protests became a part of the Athenian routine. Now at any given moment everyone knows by who, where and when there is a strike. In this way the news spread faster and people manage to organize themselves through social media to either abstain or participate in joint efforts. The creation of Usahidi, an interactive mapping platform is a leading example of how social media can be used to report crisis or other emergencies, to protect peace though active citizen participation.
In view of this remarkable mobility in social media it appears as if the traditional media were only left with the option to follow the information generated on the Internet. This interaction between the new and old school media entails dangers since the majority of information-consumers do not evaluate who is the news generator or the validity of the events communicated.
The Politics – Media – Politics model by Wolfsfeld (2004), suggests a cycle where politics and media influence each other and impact the environment in which people have been influenced to act in a certain way. In Greece that is definitely the case, but there is more to it. In a similar way, it can be argued that there is an interrelation between new and old school media that form a new cycle of influence: Media – Social Media – Media, which changes the flow of news and confirms the power of the public as a news source and as a source of influence in politics.
In this way, it can be argued that the cascade activation model of Entman (2004) may be used to further examine the facts in Greece. According to Entman’s approach, the cascade network acts top to bottom, meaning that the decisions taken by the political leader, in this case the Prime Minister, are cascaded down to the public, and this was how the economic crisis news were communicated in Greece at first place. Public opinion was formed based on the projections of the media following up with the government position.
Nowadays, the shift in the media coverage tone – both new and old school – appears to have flipped the cascade model to a bottom-to-top version, where the radical expressions of the people’s frustration are leading the formation of political decisions, as was demonstrated with the referendum proposal and the change of government in November 2011.
The social media spread is, without a doubt, increasing every minute, granting their users more power to influence their immediate environment. The impact of social media on a world basis is inevitable and could be used to promote peaceful messages instead of rivalries. It is important to benefit from the proper use of new media instead of staying focused only on the analysis of the traditional outlets, since their power seems to be fading compared to social media regardless of their credibility.
The future broadcasts are expected to be a blend of politics, media and social media input and thus it is essential to focus on the analysis of social media and their impact as soon as possible. This will not be an easy assessment given that these types of media are still in the formation stage. Recently there have been various attempts to analyze them on an international level. For example, just in December 2011, Gulf News launched an online debate that invited their readers to answer the question: What has the real world impact of social media been? Media approaches like this one, which empower the public opinion, are fundamental to change the future of media power.
 Richard Lance Keeble, John Tulloch Florian Zollmann (2010) Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution. Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York, Chapter 1, p. 178-180
Wolfsfeld, G. (2004) Media and the path to peace, Cambridge University Press
Entman R. M. (2004) Projections of Power, Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy, The University Press, Chicago & London