The number of opportunities that social media presents us with are endless; we witness new and innovative ideas take hold online almost every single day. We are constantly living in the now, viewing events happening far across the world and applying them to our own situations. While this has admittedly had many negative psychological effects, it has recently been having many positive ones as well. The #MeToo movement started in the United States but spread across the world. Women from countries in every continent added their own cultural insight into the problem and were able to garner attention and demand economic, social, and political change.
The primary thought that strikes everyone about the powers of social media are the sheer number of people one can reach -- instantly. A tweet can go viral in a matter of hours and it doesn’t even have to be from an account which has a huge following. Ordinary people are able to call out companies and organisations on their mistakes and force them to reconsider their operations. Pepsi made a grave mistake with an advertisement last year, featuring Kendall Jenner, which was criticised very heavily for trivialising movements against social injustices. They later issued a public apology and it ensured that big companies everywhere had to rethink the messages they put out into the world.
This week, an inspiring example is making people reconsider how we view the homeless. Charlie Hennessy, a homeless man on the streets of London, was given a mobile phone through which he was able to join Twitter (as @CharlieBinBags).
Over a period of eleven days, he has gained 26K followers (rising continuously), a large number of whom have reached out to him offering support in the form of food, shelter, clothes, and even jobs. An organisation called Streets Kitchen which runs a homeless shelter was also able to connect with him and in his words, “offer him direct, practical support”.
In one of his first tweets, Charlie says that he is “homeless, not evil”. When we view problems such as these, we tend to look at them as too big to solve. At an individual level, it seems impossible to do anything that can make an actual difference. But these problems are made up of individuals as well, who need help in specific ways and will be grateful for support in many forms. Social media can help us separate the big issue and the individuals, giving every person the power to do a little bit each day. Many people change smartphones within two years, which can easily be given to someone in need. New opportunities can be identified if such an idea takes hold, changing the way we deal with such issues. Daniel Hayden gives structure to this idea in a blog he wrote, titled “Could social media help the homeless?”
Streets Kitchen’s motto is “Solidarity not Charity” and that is a perfectly apt way to describe the case of Charlie Hennessy. In the case of #MeToo or the Pepsi advertisement, it is the amassed power of countless ordinary people that gives rise to movements. Because of social media, we are able to demand change and accountability. As Charlie’s story proves, this can and should be extended to asking for help as well.
You can find out more about Streets Kitchen and how you can get involved here.