I am guilty of being a Facebook junkie, a Twitter fiend, and a Tumblr fanatic. I think many of us in this new century are. Social media has become an outlet for ideas, photos of cats, and a whole slew of other activities. In recent years, social media has evolved into something of a necessity for the technological age. Even more than that, social media exists as an instrument of social activism.
Cosmopolitanism is a Philosophical theory that has been critical in defining a wide variety of societal and moral outlooks. The word stems from the Greek word kosmopolitês, roughly translating to “citizen of the world.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Cosmopolitan generally as the “idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community.” As one community we then take on a duty to deliver those around the world from injustice, poverty, and other innumerous inhumanities. I personally ground my ideas of Cosmopolitanism in the phrase “global citizen,” and I will often use these words interchangeably.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, the ideal of the sovereign State has come under fire. The growth of the UN, EU, and other regional bodies is a clear indication that society has come to find importance in the formation of international lawmaking to institute international norms on human rights . The underlying philosophy is actually much older than that, as found in the writings of the French philosopher Anacharsis Cloots who advocated “ that sovereignty should reside with the people, and that the concept of sovereignty itself, because it involves indivisibility, implies that there can be but one sovereign body in the world, namely, the human race as a whole” (1793). These movements towards transnational institutions exist as an outcropping of Global citizenship, as they blur national borders. In order to be truly global, one must release nationalism from their psyche. In a purist theory, one must identify themselves as a global citizen before anything else. Still, I believe it is possible to exist as a citizen of a state, but also act in a manner which supports a global unity. Of course, others may disagree.
So why is global citizenship important? Why should you attempt to act as a global citizen? This question has many answers, and ultimately it is up to you to determine the real reason for YOU. One possible suggestion comes from a religious grounding. The Holy Bible reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 NIV. The Holy Qur’an goes on to state “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair of a) male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other” (Al-Hujurat 49:13). Almost every religion I can think of has some sort of claim to unity in a higher being. Even though these phrases are open to interpretation, I find there is some semblance of a global unity in them. There are more secular calls to Global citizenship as well. The US Declaration of Independence puts forth the ideals of inalienable rights of Man (capital M). The UN conventions have eradicated most forms of discrimination, and the UN charter states that one of the major goals of the UN is “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Oxfam, a nonprofit designed to fight poverty, claims that global citizenship is critical to the future as it:
- “Acknowledges that we have power as individuals: each of us can change things, and each of us has choices about how we behave. But this power can be even greater when we work collectively.
- Demonstrates how the world we live in is unfair and unequal, but promotes challenging and changing this.
- Encourages us to recognize our responsibilities towards each other, and learn from each other.
Along with these examples exists a whole slew of others from every culture and paradigm, claiming that there is at least some good in the ideas of a global unity, through global citizenship. Lastly, there is your own moral conscience, which is created by a variety of experiences and institutions. I will almost guarantee that you can find something in your life that will force you to look at the world in a global light, and perhaps even foster the belief that you must take up the torch of helping those around world escape injustices.
Alright. Now why in the world did I start this conversation with Facebook and then throw us into a philosophical discussion of Cosmopolitanism? If you haven’t connected the dots yet, it is because social media has become one of the most vital ways to act as a global citizen. One of the first great successes of social media as a venue for global citizenship and fighting injustice comes from the Arab Spring. After a street vendor in Tunisia lit himself on fire in protest of government policy, the story went viral across news outlets and social media alike. The exposure, due to social media, partly led to the Arab uprisings of 2011-present. After that, it was a landslide. Stories, videos, and photos of human injustices were poured across social media, telling the world of the horrors that various groups were facing. Human rights groups, national and international entities responded in various ways, but the fact is they responded. The times of ‘reasonable doubt’ and ‘maybes’ came to an end with the dramatic rise of the camera phone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other 21st century technologies. The technological revolution brought about a social revolution with dramatic consequences around the world. Social media allows for the diffusion of data across a wide area in a short time, and in the case of human rights, knowledge and exposure is THE power to bring about change.
Social media has continued to be a key player in the global citizenship movement, with more and more people being exposed to and finding themselves involved and invigorated by various ‘shares’ and ‘retweets.’ I found myself engaged in a heated debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after someone posted an article on their wall. My colleagues, professors, and friends are constantly saying “did you see the article on BBC last night about ISIS in Iraq.” “OMG, how could you share something so blatantly biased.” “John, do you think the pictures from Yazidi will pull in the UN?” 10 or even 5 years ago, this sort of casual discussion of international affairs, human rights violations, and poverty reduction would have been impossible, but now is almost commonplace. Social media has disseminated information in a manner that allows us to become heavily engaged, if we choose to take advantage of it.
Am I ready to do marketing for Facebook or what? If you think I am overselling it, I’m not. Governments use social media every day to bolster support for various policies. Such as President Barack Obama’s use of social media in the 2012 elections, where he spent $47 million on digital ads, vs. his opponents $4.7 million, and well Obama won. He is often described as the “first social media president.” Conversely many governments are afraid of the power of social media. Turkey, earlier this year put a blanket ban on social media, after it was used to organize mass protests and bring up allegations against the sitting president. The ban was later overturned, but we can see that social media has real power. Countries, like China, proactively limit citizens’ use of social media in order to decrease the influence of dissidents within the political system. It is important to keep in mind that not all countries have the same abilities with social media, and for those of us who do have open access, we should use its full potential.
Through this, we can hold our government and other governments accountable for their actions. A clear indication of this possibility follows from the inspiration for this post, which comes from the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA. After the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen, protests broke out throughout the city. Police officers responded to the protests in riot gear and began firing tear gas on protesters and journalists alike. The police also arrested several reporters. These clear violations of norms and laws (uh, first amendment?) flew around the world on social media. As an interesting side note, reports of Palestinians tweeting at the citizens of Ferguson on how to protect themselves from tear gas arose, demonstrating the wide reach of social media. Eventually, the national outrage turned against the police of Ferguson and the government. Social media allowed for these turn of events, causing the governor of Missouri was forced to call in the State Troopers to return the city to peace, after days of violent clashes. Social media is more powerful than we give it credit for.
While social media is not protected by any covenant, I find it to be a quasi-human right to have open access to it, as social media possesses a great deal of potential to better our world. Now, I am not stating that social media is the ends of cosmopolitanism; rather it is a means to reach the ends. Social media can help you garner critical knowledge, find an organization to volunteer at, intern at, or donate to. One can start a campaign to petition congressmen over various political matters, human rights violations, or environmental concerns. The available options are almost limitless. With this in mind, I challenge you. I challenge you that for every cat picture or comic strip you post, post something that makes you a better global citizen. For every trending hashtag on twitter about #NFLScrimmages, foster conversation on #Syria. Do something, become something, find yourself in the paradigm of a global citizen, and we may just have a world worth living in for ourselves and future generations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.