Recently there has been a lot of talk about social media, and amongst the many discussions I came across this very interesting question - does it increase the impact of humanitarian organisations? Obviously this question is applicable to any cause or broadcast, but this is where my focus lies.
My answer - yes and no. Social media gives a greater voice to the causes and campaigns; it allows them to reach an audience that they otherwise would be forced to ignore. For the people, they can stay informed and continue to spread the message. On the internet, all voices are equal; one does not shout louder for attention, one must shout more. So in a way, social media does help increase the power, reach, and influence of campaigns and causes. It is an amazing way to spread the message across former boundaries and eliminates physical limitations. (On this note, I would like to quickly broadcast and shamelessly promote the UN Foundation iPhone app, free at the itunes store. I have it, I love it; it is wonderful for staying updated with what is happening.)
The negative effect social media has on the aforementioned sector - there is a lot of "rambled" to overpower. When everyone has a place to broadcast whatever they want and on the same level as everyone else, then the truly important global issues end up next to useless social updates and unwanted spam. The sheer amount of information an individual has thrown at them on a daily basis has made them cynical and wary when it comes to all new messages. Now the cause not only has to reach the person, it also has to break in - which is no.easy feat. Only then can one start to work on convincing that person to care.
So while social media has increased the power of all causes and campaigns, the same effect has also increased the amount of resistance to overcome once the message arrives. The good news is those who care, care. They will take the time to promote the issue to their people, and they will continue to broadcast the message.
In the end, it is still up to the individual receiving the message to do something. Social media helps the campaigns reach more individuals, but it in itself cannot force them to care or to act. To take this back to the initial question, once again, yes and no. The causes can reach more people, which is absolutely wonderful; but then there is more resistance to being deemed worth an actual look. But the biggest concern facing humanitarian organisations remains unaffected - you still need to convince the person to care.