SEATTLE — At its 55th Commission for Social Development, the U.N. discussed how the international community could best harness the power of media, especially social media, to educate and transform how people engage with reducing poverty. The media is a prominent vehicle of public information, making it an effective resource to help shape opinion and policy. Social media can help poverty reduction by harnessing the power of information sharing to raise public awareness and involvement.
With many world leaders committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reducing poverty is receiving more news coverage, opening the many opportunities the media has to contribute to ending poverty. With the ability to inform the public, the media can increase awareness of economic, social and environmental issues, the three pillars of sustainable development. It can also serve as an inclusive forum for people who have experienced poverty to share their experiences, concerns and opinions.
The Importance of Tipping the Balance
A 2014 study of three prominent American nightly news sources found that in 14 months, an average of only 2.7 seconds in every 22 minute program mentioned poverty. Over the same period, the. network news shows aired almost four times as many stories that contained the word “billionaire.”
According to the U.N., numerous examples show how media involvement can help reduce poverty and bring basic services to vulnerable populations.
What Does Using Social Media to Reduce Poverty Actually Look Like?
In 2016, a post-airstrike video of Omran Daqneesh, a rescued Syrian boy, was posted on social media and viewed millions of times shortly after publication. A global headline, the photo quickly transformed into a social media meme, a cartoon depicting the tough choices faced by Syrian children and sparked discussions about the Syrian war.
Sharing powerful images can spur quick action. An image of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned while leaving Syria for Greece, gained similar attention. Sharing it via social media had real outcomes: MercyCorps garnered $2.3 million donation dollars for Syrian refugees in one month, compared to the $4.5 million raised in four years before.
Social Media in Action
Many development projects are tapping into how social media can help poverty reduction. Agnes Binagwaho, the Health Minister of Rwanda, uses social media to create a platform for people to openly communicate with their government. Every other Monday, Binagwaho opens a discussion via Twitter, named #MinisterMondays, for people to voice their concerns about health in the country. Listening to real voices, she is able to offer information and craft policies using the experiences she absorbs through social media.
Digital Green, an online social media platform, provides farmers in remote locations a network to connect with fellow farmers and discuss best practices for farming. Over 125,000 farmers are connected on Digital Green. Seventy percent of them are women.
An anti-corruption movement, I Paid a Bribe, creates a space to safely expose corruption in developing countries online or by text or email. Its goal is to improve governance systems, tighten law enforcement and reduce the scope of corruption in governmental services. The reports provide unprecedented accounts of corruption in India, Greece, Kenya, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. It will be coming soon to the Philippines and Mongolia.
A Voice That Is Heard
At its 7th Annual Research Conference in 2015, the University of Namibia’s Humanities and Social Sciences described how the media can create a space of nonviolent discussion and give voice to impoverished peoples. “The knowledge and experiences of people living in poverty are often undervalued and their perspectives on their needs and on solutions to their own problems are ignored.” The media then can serve as a powerful voice for underserved and disadvantaged groups, allowing more individuals to participate in development processes and have their stories meaningfully heard.
– Cleo Krejci