Is digital media good for humanitarianism?

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Half of us believe digital media improves civic participation, according to a recent poll Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Claudio Cocorocchia
Platform Curator, Shaping the Future of Media, Information and Entertainment, World Economic Forum Geneva
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The rise of digital platforms, social media engagement, content sharing and viral marketing have drastically transformed civic participation and activism. Now, more than ever, we have massive levels of activity and engagement around many different kinds of social causes.

Many causes that traditionally have had little to no exposure or following can now become global phenomena and as our use of digital media increases the world will have more people who call themselves “digital humanitarians”. However, what are the implications for society? Is digital activism actually having a meaningful impact on the causes it is designed to support?

According to a World Economic Forum global survey conducted in 2015, approximately 49% of respondents believe that digital media has improved the amount and quality of their civic participation; but “most of the time, there’s that nagging suspicion that most people don’t feel connected to the issues that they care about. For example, signing a petition and donating money are not particularly meaningful actually in terms of supporting frontline activists on the ground,” states Sam Gregory of Witness, in an international organization that trains citizens around the world on how to use digital media for humanitarian efforts.

What we may be experiencing is an exponential increase in low-impact civic engagement, which is replacing higher-impact activism and essentially numbing our intents for making a real difference on the causes we care about. For example, just because I “liked” and I am following Save the Children’s Facebook page, I may be less inclined to actually sponsor a child because in a digital world I may be satisfied with my “virtual” support of causes. And in such cases, what is the actual benefit to society?

You can view seven short videos about the societal implications of digital media and the impacts on various aspects of our lives:

Author: Claudio Cocorocchia, Content Lead, Media, Entertainment and Information Industries, and a Global Leadership Fellow

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