Social media: friend or foe?

Tuesday 22 September, 19.30 until 21.00, Hellenic American Union, Massalias 22, 10680, Athens, Greece International Satellites

This event is free and unticketed. For more information contact

Having an online presence is now almost unavoidable. Social media seems to have become an extension of one’s self, with check-ins, status updates, live tweeting and regularly uploading selfies to Instagram now a normal part of life for many. The ability of content from anyone to go viral has transformed political campaigning, journalism and reporting. Some have claimed it has given birth to a revolutionary new kind of democratic order where anyone with something important to say can make their voice heard around the world. The ubiquity of social-media use during the 2010 Arab Spring, both as a way of driving the political agenda and reporting from the ground, marked a new era in how global events unfold.  Petitions for popular causes can gather millions of signatures overnight and mass demonstrations can be organised in hours. Major news organisations and political figures now rely hugely on social media for information ‘from the ground’. 

Social media has been presented as a way for individuals to craft their public image in whatever way they choose. But there is a tradeoff: people willingly give up their privacy by sharing personal details with social media providers, but often complain when it is used for targeted marketing. The rise of the narcissistic phenomenon of ‘oversharing’ has seen people share both intimate and banal details of their private lives with vast networks of people, in a way that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.  But when an innocuous post sparks a Twitterstorm, trolling and public shaming, the consequences are often disproportionate. Because while social media has been presented as a playground for free speech, there have been many instances of prominent people having their careers destroyed after ill-advised social media posts, such as the expulsion of triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou from the 2012 Olympics for tweeting a racist joke.

Should we simply accept that we live in a new society where our privacy comes second to our desire to engage with others on social media? Should politics be held to ransom by Twitter mobs with no long-term commitment to a cause, and who will move on to the next trending topic within days or even hours?  Is having a Twitter account and being an eyewitness to an important event all the qualification one needs to be a citizen reporter? And has the media’s desire for instant reportage from social media spelt the end of source-verification and context in reporting?

Dr Agiatis Benardou
senior research associate, ATHENA Research Centre

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Lida Tsene
head of public relations, art and educational programs, Comicdom Press

Nikos Vatopoulos
arts editor and columnist, Kathimerini

Dr Ashley Frawley
Senior lecturer in sociology and social policy, Swansea University; author, The Semiotics of Happiness: rhetorical beginnings of a public problem

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Lila Manioti director of cultural affairs, Hellenic American Union

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