The power of the media is anchored on its ability to shape the minds of its intended markets through purposive content reaching the widest possible audience (Van Dijk, 1995). Technology over the last 50 years has made media increasingly available to every segment of society. But achieving critical mass of informed people can be slow with traditional print and broadcast media. It was not until the last decade of the 20th century when the internet ushered in online communications that media transitioned to become more accessible, interactive and democratic in the 21st century.
The new media enabled by the Internet technology is no longer constrained by time or geographic borders (Lule, 2012). An online post in a blog or social media forum like Facebook can reach thousands of readers within a few hours, and millions within a day. The expression commonly used is “going viral”, an apt description of a message content that can spread like a virus infection. In the same way that mass media is harnessed by governments to shape popular thought through propaganda, the same media can be used by the people to change governments. This was made clear during the Arab Spring of 2011.
The Arab Spring stood out in political history when social media became a change agent for overthrowing repressive governments. A few postings in social media brought people to the streets and unseated leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya while sparking similar protests in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Media has reshaped the politics and governance in the Middle East (Aday, et al., 2012).
Democracy in the Media
Quite apart from its wide accessibility and ease of use, what makes the internet so popular is the convergence of just about every traditional media forms with the functional premium of interactivity. The Internet did not replace old media forms. It converged them into something you can access with a mouse click. Jack Lule (2012) defines Media Convergence as a process where previously separate communications media come together to share a common resource, identity and reach that defy time and space. One integral aspect that makes convergence so powerful is its participatory or democratic quality that enables people across cultures and demographics to interact with each other in real time.
The Internet has become a socio-political equalizer. Today, just about every social media converges with online news reporting, video, blogs, and bulletin boards to inform and interact with people across diverse ethnicity and geographies. such the recent 2016 US elections, as well as on current conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. Media has certainly evolved into a powerhouse creating more opportunities for informed decisions and actions involving both the people and the government in participative democracy than at any other time in history.