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Brave, New Social World


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Egyptian protestors

A protestor's sign thanks the youth of Egypt and Facebook during the political unrest in Egypt in late January. The photo, by an NBC foreign correspondent, first appeared on Twitter.

Credit: Photo tweeted by Richard Engel NBC on Friday Jan 28, 2011 Witness.org

Today, social media is emerging as a dominant form of instant global communication. Growing more addictively popular by the daynearly two-thirds of Internet users worldwide use some type of social media, according to an industry estimateFacebook, Twitter, and other easily accessible online tools deepen our interaction with societies near and far.

Consider these numbers: Facebook is poised to hit 700 million users and, as seven of 10 Facebook members reside outside the U.S., more than 70 global-language translations. Twitter's user numbers will reportedly hit 200 million later this year, and users can tweet in multiple languages. In terms of daily usage, Facebook generates the second-most traffic of any site in the world, according to Alexa.com, a Web information company, at press time. (Google is number one.) As for blogging, which now seems likes a relatively old-fashioned form of social media, the dominant site, blogger.com, ranks eighth. As for Twitter, it's now 11thand climbing.


Nearly two-thirds of Internet users worldwide use some type of social media, according to an industry estimate.


The top five nations in terms of social media usage are the U.S., Poland, Great Britain, South Korea, and France, according to the Pew Research Center. But beyond international rankings and traffic numbers, there's much diversity in the manner in which the citizens of the world take advantage of these tools, according to Blogging Around the Globe: Motivations, Privacy Concerns and Social Networking, an IBM Tokyo research report. In Japan, blogs often serve as outlets for personal expression and diary-style postings. In the U.S., it's mostly about earning income or promoting an agenda. In the U.K., it's a combination of these needs, as well as professional advancement and acting as a citizen journalist.

Communications connected with three citizens in three different nations, each of whom are finding their own individual voice through these resources. In fact, we depended primarily upon social media to initially reach them. One is a Japanese female blogger who segues seamlessly from pop-culture observations to revealing reflections on the nation's recent earth-quake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. Another is a Brazilian businesswoman who uses multiple digital outlets to expand her marketing reach throughout the world. The third is an Egyptian newsman who is helping record history with his dispatches of daily life in a region undergoing dramatic political change. (In terms of social media usage, Brazil ranks eighth, Japan 12th, and Egypt 18th, according to Pew.) Here are their stories.

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Me and Tokyo

The contrast is striking: Before March 11, Mari Kanazawa's blog, Watashi to Tokyo (translation: Me and Tokyo), waxes whimsically about a recent tweet in Japanese by the band Radiohead, as well as consumer products such as Wasasco, a wasabi-flavored Tabasco.

After March 11, however, the conversation takes an abrupt turn. The day after the devastating Thoku earthquake and tsunami, Kanazawa writes this unsettling passage: "Earthquake, tsunami, fire and now we have a nuclear meltdown...I was in the Midtown Tower when it happened. Japanese people are used to earthquakes, we can usually sense them because the building sways, but this time it was shaking up and down. Some people screamed and some hid under their desks."

Within a week, Kanazawa casts a sense of humor about the situation: "I really don't need to check Geiger counters and don't need a lot of toilet paper because earthquakes [don't] make me [go to the bathroom] more than usual."

A high-profile cyberpersonality in Japan, Kanazawa has always perceived her blog as equal parts diary and cultural commentary. She was one of the rare Japanese citizens who wrote a blog in English when she started in 2004, so her traffic numbers have spiked to a healthy 2,000 unique visitors a day. A Web site manager, Kanazawa prefers the free-form creativity of a blog, as opposed to the restrictive 140-character count of Twitter. "It doesn't fit me," she says of the latter. "My blog is an information hub for Japanese subculture. That's my style. I wanted to tell people that we have more interesting, good things than sushi, sumo, tempura, geishas, and ninjas."

Since the disaster, like many Japanese citizens posting blogs and Facebook status updates, Kanazawa has sought and published information about the nation's recovery efforts. "These tools are so effective in this disaster," she says. "People need to check for things such as the transportation situation and where the evacuation areas are. In Thoku, when someone tweeted 'We need 600 rice balls here,' they were delivered within an hour. Social media went from being a communication tool to a lifeline."

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Braziland Beyond

In generations past, it would be difficult for a self-described life coach like Lygya Maya of Salvador, Brazil, to interact with a motivational-speaking giant like Tony Robbins, an American who has more than 200 books, audio CDs, and other products listed on Amazon. com. Perhaps she would have needed to take a trip to the U.S. in hopes of speaking with Robbins at one of his tour stops. Or write him a letter and hope he would answer with something beyond a polite thank you.

But this is the 21st century, and Maya takes full advantage of the digital age to engage with high-profile leaders such as Robbins and Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Robbins and Hansen are now Facebook friends with Maya, who they have advised and encouraged to push beyond perceived limitations in her work.

Such international collaborations have enabled Maya to create her own signature style to market herself, which she calls a "Brazilian Carnival Style" approach to guide clients to enjoying a happy, productive, and empowering life. Maya now sees up to 300 clients a year in private sessions, and hosts as many as 500 group sessions annually.

"I use blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Plaxo [an online address book] to promote my business," Maya says. "I am about to start podcasting, as well as making YouTube videos on every channel that I can find on the Internet. Social media has opened up my business on many different levels. I am now able to promote it literally to the world, free of charge."

Maya has also established more than 2,500 personal connections via Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites. She'll send tweets several times a day, offering reflections like "When truthfully expressed, words reflect our core value and spirit." All of this has helped Maya promote her budding empire of services and products, which will soon include a book, Cheeka Cheeka BOOM Through Life!: The Luscious Story of a Daring Brazilian Woman. It's gotten to the point wherelike some of her counterparts in the U.S.she must subcontract work just to keep up with it all.

"I'm about to hire a team to work with me on Twitter and all the social media out there that we can use to support campaigns," Maya says. "You must have a great team to share quality work. Otherwise, you will have stress. This allows me to promote my services and products 24/7and that includes while I'm sleeping."

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A Witness in Egypt

Amr Hassanein lists Babel, Fantasia, and The Last Temptation of Christ as his favorite movies on his Facebook page. And his organizations/activities of interest include Hands Along the Nile Development Services, a nonprofit organization that promotes intercultural understanding between the U.S. and his native Egypt. Now working as a freelance producer for ABC News, Hassanein is also using Facebook as a vehicle to showcase his own firsthand accounts of political unrest in the Middle East. Recently, for example, ABC sent him to Libya to assist with news coverage of the nation's conflict.

"My usage of social media tools is from a neutral side," says Hassanein, sounding very much like an objective news reporter. "Social media makes me feel like an observer. It gives me a sense of what's going on around me at all times. The impact events here in Egypt, like the demonstrations, were organized and known through Facebook."


"Social media makes me feel like an observer," says Amr hassanein. "It gives me a sense of what's going on around me at all times."


Still, it's impossible to live through these times without getting caught up in the politics. His sympathies remain with We Are All Khaled Said, an anti-torture group that uses social media to allow voices of the Arab uprisings to be heard. (Sample Facebook post from the group: "Gaddafi has vowed it will be a 'long war' in Libya. Let's hope his [sic] wrong & Gaddafi's massacre of his people will end very soon.")

Hassanein recognizes that social media provides an opportunity to deliver an unfiltered message to the world about local developments, as well as debunk stereotypes about people of the Middle East. Yet, aside from this bigger-picture purpose, these tools allow him to easily remain in close contact with loved ones and work associates.

Actions taken by the Egyptian government to block access to Facebook and Twitter significantly backfired during its recent conflict, further fueling the resolve of the freedom movement, he says. "The impact was clear: What were normal demonstrations became a revolution. It made me think about the consequences of blocking people from information."

That said, some of the "anything goes" aspects of social media make Hassanein feel uncomfortable. "When you watch a news channel that presents a direction you don't like," he says, "you have the ability not to watch. In social media, there is no uni-direction you can refuse or reject. People are the senders and the receivers. Inputs need to be self-filtering and self-censoring. For me, I will use my head."

* Further Reading

Hilts, A., and Yu, E.
Modeling social media support for the elicitation of citizen opinion, Proceedings of the International Workshop on Modeling Social Media, Toronto, Canada, June 13-16, 2010.

Kärkkäinen, H., Jussila, J., and Väisänen, J.
Social media use and potential in business-to-business companies' innovation, Proceedings of the 14th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, Tampere, Finland, Oct. 6-8, 2010.

Kobayashi, M.
Blogging around the globe: Motivations, privacy concerns and social networking, Computational Social Networks, Abraham, A., (Ed.), Springer-Verlag, London, England, forthcoming.

Leskovec, J.
Social media analytics: Tracking, modeling and predicting the flow of information through networks, Proceedings of the 20th International Conference Companion on World Wide Web, Hyderabad, India, March 28April 1, 2011.

Mehlenbacher, B., McKone, S., Grant, C., Bowles, T., Peretti, S., and Martin, P.
Social media for sustainable engineering communication, Proceedings of the 28th ACM International Conference on Design of Communication, São Carlos-São Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 2629, 2010.

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Author

Dennis McCafferty is a Washington, D.C.-based technology writer.

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Figures

UF1Figure. A protestor's sign thanks the youth of Egypt and Facebook during the political unrest in Egypt in late January. The photo, by an NBC foreign correspondent, first appeared on Twitter.

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Tables

UT1Table. Blogs: Motivations for writing and readership levels by region.

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