Pay attention!

18 Dec

ImageClaire Hawkins and Matt Hahn, two students in my fall 2012 freshman honors seminar here at UNL, wrote this excellent piece as their semester final project. They remind us that we are too quick to take for granted the easy freedoms we enjoy. Their work, below, is worth a read.

 First Amendment freedom of speech is such a staple of life in America that it’s no great leap to take what we have for granted. In our modern lives, social media such as Twitter and Facebook have become a powerful tool for communication, allowing the average citizen to be heard on a massive scale. Here in the United States, this speech is expected and fully protected by law.

However, this is not the case in all parts of the world. There are countries where speaking out can cost you everything, where basic freedom is a perilous struggle. In these countries, social media are taken very seriously and used on the forefront of revolution.

During the early months of 2011, particularly January and February, Twitter became the primary method for Egyptian citizens to discuss among themselves and with other countries the revolution taking place. Not only was this communication valuable to the Egyptians working to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, it also provided first-hand and up-to-date information to the world. YouTube and Facebook played parts as well, providing the visuals to support the written posts. Pictures and videos depicting participants’ determination, protests and violence gave greater life to already stirring updates.

Drawing inspiration from the progress of Egypt, other Middle Eastern countries such as Yemen, Tunisia, and even Saudi Arabia have used social networking sites in varying degrees to coordinate and plan their own protest movements.

Perhaps the greatest victory of social media in the Middle East is the connection of people who endure the shared problems as a result oppressive regimes in their various nations. The knowledge that there are others fighting against similar problems and that a difference can be made, is a source of great confidence and of great inspiration.

Here at home, the effects of social media on the recent election are clear as well. Citizens and candidates organized, debated, and won support through the same media used to topple oppression and brighten the future in other parts of the world. When the ideas for websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube first came about, it’s unlikely that their creators could have predicted their current significance, though they surely must be proud of what their inventions have come to represent.

As American citizens, we express ourselves to promote social change, ensuring that opinions are continually examined and that we are aware of the hows and whys not only of our own beliefs but those of others as well.

Here in America where freedom is the norm, following the struggle of others to gain rights we employ so effortlessly is enlightening. Anyone can learn academically that freedom of expression is the foundation of a free society, but witnessing that principle take root in societies just learning how to be free drives home just how valuable our own freedom is.

 

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