Monday, November 12, 2012

Social Media and Political Power

In Clay Shirky’s The Political Power of Social Media, he believes that rather than relying on “instrumental” approach to social and political mobilization, by putting great emphasis on technology’s power to let people mobilize, we should focus on environmental view of social media effects on the public sphere. He believes that the U.S. government should follow this approach, “…promoting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly everywhere…Only by switching from an instrumental to an environmental view of the effects of social media on the public sphere will the U.S. be able to take advantage of the long term benefits these tools promise…,” (41). Shirky argues further that the potential of social media lies in their support of civil society and public sphere, where changes should be measured in years and decades rather than weeks or months. This article reminds me of the incident that happened in China last year, of a two year old Chinese girl who was a victim of a hit-and-run accident. (, but please do not watch it, it is very violent: I just put up the link as reference). The video is of Yue Yue (the girl’s name) being run over by cars, while bystanders fear to help her because they might be blamed. According to, Many people in China are hesitant to help people who appear to be in distress for fear that they will be blamed. High-profile lawsuits have ended with good Samaritans ordered to pay hefty fines to individuals they sought to help,” ( The viral video caused uproar among people all over the web, becoming the most popular topic talked about on China’s Twitter-like website (Weibo). Users discussed China’s social, political, and economic circumstances because of Yue Yue’s death, and her father had received more than U.S. dollar equivalent of $42,280 in donations from all over the world to help pay for her medical treatment. The outrage sparked by the viral video and social media websites triggered the capital of Guangzhou to plan laws to protect good Samaritans and give rewards up to 500,000 yuan for actions of good will, ( Although Shirky asserts that private and commercial environments of social media should be taken more environmentally, should aim at specific regimes, and increase support for local public speech and assembly, I think in this case culture plays a role as well. U.S. is multicultural nation and I believe we should still take in consideration of the diversity in America. In Yue Yue’s case, Chinese and other races of people voiced their opinions through social media, individuals who are too far away from their home nation yet they were still able to make a difference. International donations supported for Yue Yue’s medical bills, as well as changes in policy to protect and reward good Samaritans. It also made people aware of the issue. The video was a news clip for China, yet when posted on Youtube, it sparked people’s outrage of those who do not speak Chinese or watch the Chinese news, or have international cable.  Although these networking sites are commercially and privately run, it still had an effect on people to take action, spreading to Chinese, Chinese immigrants, and multiple individuals of all races. The global audiences of this video was able to mobilize, help, and have an effect on the policies toward good Samaritans in Guangzhou regardless of whether these network sites are privately run or allowed people to mobilize locally or globally. 


  1. The Yue Yue example reminds me of the term "spatially distant neighbors". This is the idea that we are all still neighbors even though we are spatially distant. It is empowering to see people from all over the world ban together behind one issue. This is all made possible through media. Without it, how would people have known about what had happened to Yue Yue? Although some people have critiques about technological developments, an example like this reminds us of the limitless possibilities for social media.

  2. Yelynn, the incident you describe touches well on both social media's potential role in bringing injustices to light, as well as the increasingly litigious nature of contemporary societies, where people fear to get involved because of the danger of being sued. Good Samaritan laws are supposed to help in this regard, but as far as I know, such provisions haven't been implemented in the online world and are still being worked out (as recent cases dealing with cyberbullying show, we're still trying to figure out the consequences, both good and bad, for online actions).