Tapping Social Media for Social Good

Social media should not be viewed as a problem solving tool for our social and humanitarian problems but as a medium for social good, proposes Dr. Amirudin Abdul Wahab.

It’s well recognised that social media provides ample opportunities to benefit people and communities. But nothing makes the point better than real world examples. In this article, I’m going to set out inspirational initiatives where social media is being used for social good to fight corruption; predict future health problems; upgrade living conditions of less fortunate people. These varied initiatives demonstrate the power of social media in transforming causes into action through tapping into the social networks of decent people.

Social media has become a formidable force for societal change in various ways that invite a deepening discussion among social activists who could potentially tap into these networks and use them to their advantage. Such digital platforms enable activists to connect to a larger audience, discuss new ideas and organize activities. One of the powerful aspects of social media is to provide a platform for people to express their thoughts and experiences independently and to engage with a like-minded audience. There have been a number of hashtags that have been used in this way: #NetNeutrality brought attention to fight for keeping the Internet free and open; #DelhiGangRape brought the culture of violence and rape in India into the spotlight; and #ArabSpring brought attention to protests and unrest in countries from Tunisia to Syria. This kind of social media mobilization illustrated the power of social media in making a social change..

The website Ipaidabribe.com is an example of a social medium that pushes for education and change on corruption. It provides an avenue for Indians to post their bribe experiences. These can be contributed under four different scenarios:

1. I Paid a Bribe, where experiences about briberies incidents can be shared.
2. I Am a Bribe Fighter, where experience about resisting bribery can be shared.
3. I Met an Honest Officer, which recognized honest officers
4. I Do Not Want to Pay a Bribe, where experiences about how to avoid paying a bribe can be shared.

It has been reported that there have been more than 20,000 reports from 500 Indian cities through this anonymous reporting platform. The website also launched a mobile application. Ipaidabribe.com has significant impact on social change in terms of educating and reducing public acceptance of corruption. An example of this in practice is when the transport commissioner in Bangalore used the information on Ipaidabribe.com to reform their procedures with a focus on automation and reducing bribery cases.

This social good initiative has attracted NGOs from 26 countries to replicate the Ipaidabribe.com model in their respective countries. Greece, Pakistan and Bhutan have started their own anonymous reporting on corruption experiences.

HealthMap is an interesting case of a social good initiative where a vast amount of digital media data is used to monitor disease outbreaks and other emerging public health threats through informal sources. This initiative was started in 2006 by researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital. HealthMap analyses public data in 15 languages, including tweets, news reports, and public information from government and public health groups. This wealth of information facilitates the early detection of global public health threats and delivers a comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases for a diverse audience including libraries, local health departments, governments, and international travellers. HealthMap has been used to track many heath threats, including SARS, H1N1, MERS, the flu. The threats are illustrated on their map-based display.

There are many ongoing research projects that are pushing the perimeters of what kind of data can be extracted from social media channels reliable. Extracting information from various sources and correlating the data into a specified context are the key for HealthMap’s success. HealthMap have in turn utilized Twitter as a tool to inform the public of health threats.

Charity:Water delivers a social good initiative by providing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. In 2015, the World Economic Forum acknowledged that the water crisis is the foremost global risk based on impact to society. One is the sheer amount of time spent gathering water around the world which equates to $24 billion in lost economic benefits each year.[1] Moreover, water related diseases kill nearly 1 million people each year. [2]

Charity: Water has created a public awareness of the world’s water crisis and is managing fundraising by engaging with philanthropists. On 12 February 2009, 202 cities around the world held ‘Twestivals’, which used the Twitter community to raise public awareness about Charity: Water projects. It was reported that Charity: Water has raised more than $250,000 to finance water projects in the developing world by appealing to people to then get together in person for the cause.

One of the better known examples of social media use for social good is the way it can be used to spread news about humanitarian disasters and social movements. Hence, we can use social media successfully for raising public awareness of causes – whether it is for profit or non-profit projects, which can include fundraising, community growth and engagement.

There are many social media platforms that can be used for social good initiatives such as these, from popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to less known platforms such as KickStarter and pitchIN. Whatever the social good initiatives is in aid of, communication strategies that utilise social media platforms are crucial for spreading the message to supporters around the world.

Social media should not be viewed as a problem solving tool for our social and humanitarian problems but as a medium for imparting democracy, education and justice through collaborative efforts from people who share and believe in the same cause. Social media provides everyday people with the power to change the world by raising public awareness, seeking funding from philanthropist through crowdsourcing, bringing together a pool of experts to discuss social problems and managing ideas into reality. We can incorporate NGOs, government agencies and private sectors by highlighting our approaches on addressing the social problems that plague societies worldwide. In short, social media gives people the power to do a little bit of social good in the world.

[1] World Health Organization. (2012). Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage.
[2] World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP). (2015) Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation, 2015 Update and MDG Assessment.