A Dialogue for Social Change on Facebook: A South African Case Study

  • Bettina Benzinger


The increasing popularity of social media platforms and the Internet's increasing accessibility in developing countries establish a case for using social media in international development. This essay outlines the potential of social media to drive a dialogue for social change. I argue that social media posses an important potential that is grounded in the congruent philosophies of the two concepts 'social media' and 'social change.' Social media express a new mindset that distinguishes this evolved media species from the so-called traditional media. This social media mindset is expressed in six core ideas which I call the six Cs of social media: connectedness, community, content, conversation, collaborating crowd and collective action.  Before elaborating on the theoretical underpinnings, I will first present the most important empirical findings of a case study: loveLife, South Africa's largest HIV-prevention initiative, which engages youth in vivid dialogues on Facebook about societal grievances. I applied a model of communication for social change (Figueroa et al., 2002) in a deductive content analysis to a sample of the dialogues. The results confirm that there are elements of a dialogue for change inherent in the analysed dialogue sample and emphasize the potential of social media dialogues to drive social change. In making societal grievances a topic of discussion and participating in the dialogues on loveLife's Facebook page, the young people become aware of the status quo in their society. Furthermore, they actively negotiate understandings of the presented situations, identify causes, and to a smaller extent outline visions for the future and more or less concrete solutions and actions to take. Therefore, the dialogues trigger thought processes and create mutual understanding about the societal situation. The study could confirm previous research (Junge, 2012; Sheedy, 2011) which pointed out the power of online dialogues in change processes by making topics being present in the minds of people and making them discussed. However, the research also reveals some challenges that the approach has to face.
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