All too often, the most vulnerable populations also find themselves without a voice. Whether they are minorities, children, the elderly or the homeless, the people who need the most help often find themselves most misunderstood. Traditionally these groups have had to rely on others, such as social workers, journalists and academic researchers, to speak for them. But today, social media is changing that.
Social workers interact with many voiceless populations, and social media is giving these professionals a new way to empower others to speak for themselves. It’s a powerful way to help others create their own social change, and it’s had world-changing results in recent years.
Simple concepts, powerful results
Social media is powerful for three reasons:
- It’s easy to access
- Can be highly visible
- Creates entirely new communities
All people need is access to a cell phone or library, and they can begin to speak to an audience without relying on help from “voiced” intermediaries.
In the last decade, the effects of social media’s empowerment have been visible on an international scale. Prisoners have been released, revolutions started and news delivered which would have been impossible just 15 years ago. On a more individual scale, teachers have used social media to help children speak without fear of retaliation from their classmates.
For example, a pilot program in 2013 in Mount Vernon, Wash., gave its students social media training and then provided anonymous accounts so they could interact with each other online. The goal was to create a place for shy students and those who were afraid of retaliation because of unpopular views to be able to speak. Online, they had an equal voice to their louder and more popular classmates. Teachers were merely the intermediaries.
In each of these cases, people who may have been unable or uncomfortable speaking just a few years ago now have the chance to speak to millions of people. At the very least, they can speak candidly about their experiences.
Researchers and social workers have found ways to amplify the empowering effects of social media. Instead of speaking for voiceless populations, many are now working to give those populations the tools to speak for themselves. Community based participatory research, for example, is based on the idea of giving participants the tools to explain their experiences, and the possibilities extend beyond that.
In New York, a project named Underheard gave Twitter accounts that already had thousands of followers to four homeless men. They also were given pre-paid cell phones connected to those account and began to share their experiences in a completely new way, while benefiting from the support of their Twitter communities. They suddenly became connected and had a voice.
The possibilities to reach people through social media are endless and will continue to evolve. Social work, as a discipline, will continue to be at the forefront of this revolution.
Learn how to become part of this movement by visiting The Catholic University of America’s website or contact us for information regarding the online MSW, click here or call 855-295-5711 today.