10 online and social media campaigns that changed the world

Social media campaigns that changed the world
Get online and make a change.

It might not always seem easy to draw attention to a cause you support, but for those who believe in the power of the individual to create change for the better, we live in exciting times.

The advent of the internet is frequently cited for instituting a great number of advancements in contemporary society, but perhaps the most defining and transformative technological trait of the past decade has been the way in which the web and social media have enabled ordinary people to change the world around them in both big ways and small.

Here are 10 examples:

1. Arab Spring

Arguably the most significant demonstration of technology and social media activism in recent times, the so-called 'Arab Spring' uprisings and protests in numerous countries throughout the Arab world starting in late 2010 illustrated how social networks could be utilised as powerful new tools for political organisation, communication and resistance.

2. Instagram backlash

The photo filter/sharing phenomenon might have all seemed like a bit of harmless retro fun, but when newly Facebook-owned Instagram tried to quietly revise its terms and conditions in late 2012 with new advertiser-friendly amendments, the resulting user backlash obliged a chastened Instagram to back down on its proposals with a fawning mea culpa.

3. Kony 2012

Probably the most viral phenomenon of 2012 (OK, so maybe that award has to go to a little something called Gangnam Style), documentary film Kony 2012 captivated YouTube users worldwide with its depiction of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Closing in on 100 million YouTube views, Kony 2012 is proof that web video can be a powerful communication medium, not solely reserved for light entertainment fare.

4. Blogging about logging

Staging an old school sit-in, but with digital tools to bolster awareness and engagement, Australian environmental campaigner Miranda Gibson has been literally living in a tree for over a year (at the time of writing, some 437 days) to protect Tasmanian forests from logging. From her canopy platform she blogs regularly about environmental issues and her record-breaking feat at observertree.org. Unfortunately, Miranda Gibson had to leave the tree in March this year due to threat of wildfire. If you'd like to help her cause, see her blog here: http://observertree.org/2013/03/10/you-can-help-miranda-continue-her-work-to-protect-tasmanias-forests/.

5. Wikipedia

Wait a second, isn't Wikipedia a web site? Yes it is, and one that's run by a non-profit, volunteer-sourcing foundation whose stated goal is to "collect and develop the world's knowledge and to make it available to everyone for free, for any purpose", making it arguably the single most ambitious and successful digital campaign.

6. Death Star USA

Launched in 2011, We The People is a petitioning web site operated by the White House, offering US citizens the opportunity to petition their government on "important issues facing our country". Originally, 5,000 signatures to a petition would guarantee an official response from the Obama Administration, but in January the threshold was raised to 100,000 after continual abuses of the system, including over 25,000 petitioners demanding the US build a Death Star "to spur job creation". The White House's official response (for real): "The Administration does not support blowing up planets".

7. $314 million coal hoax

Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan made national headlines in January when he fooled the media into reporting on his hoax ANZ press release, which claimed the bank was withdrawing a $1.2 billion loan to Nathan Tinkler's Whitehaven Coal. On the day the (fake) story broke, this one email cost the company $314 million in market value, although once the hoax was revealed, the damage was far less.

8. Shock jocks

When the loose lips of repugnant radio broadcasters like Kyle Sandilands and Alan Jones get them into trouble, listeners get a chance to vent their outrage on social media, swiftly obliging radio advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship and association with the big mouths in question.

9. OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative data project that isn't so much about changing the world as it is making it by creating a free, crowd-sourced, non-proprietary and editable map of the world. Founded in 2004 and inspired by the success of Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap isn't just for keen orientationers and cartography enthusiasts, with big players like Apple and Foursquare now starting to incorporate the data in their products.

10. Vegemite iSnack 2.0

OK, so we couldn't resist throwing this one in. When Kraft announced the winning entry of its new flavour naming competition in 2009 was 'iSnack 2.0', the result was met with widespread derision and Aussie outrage throughout social media forums, pressuring the company to retract, rethink and rebrand. It settled on 'Cheeseybite'. Who said changing the world couldn't be a laugh at the same time?