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In Honor of Independence Day: How Would Social Media have Shaped the Declaration?

Fireworks_3 Here in the U.S., tomorrow is the 4th of July, Independence Day, the anniversary commemorating when the 13 American colonies declared their independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. This morning I started thinking about how things might have gone down if the colonists had access to social media.  Here's what I'm thinking:

  • Jefferson and Adams would probably have been Twittering about King George--the "bill of particulars" in the Declaration that lists each of the colonists' complaints seems like perfect Twitter fodder to me.

    "He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people." (129 characters)

  • Several of the Founding Fathers would have been blogging, I'm sure. I definitely see Ben Franklin with a blog--maybe "Poor Richard's Almanack ONLINE" with some political commentary thrown in.
  • King George would probably have been oblivious to the colonists' activity, unless some hot shot in his Court had set up a Google Alert or was monitoring Technorati.   This would have happened from home though because the Palace IT department would be blocking all social media applications.
  • If they were smart, the colonists would have been uploading video to YouTube and pictures to Flickr--you know, altercations with the local authorities, video from the Boston Tea Party, that sort of thing.
  • I could see a remix of "Did You Know?" only this version would be a bunch of stats on how King George and his government were messing with the colonists, ending with a call to donate to the cause through a widget and/or to sign an online petition.
  • The Declaration itself would have been written in either a Google doc or a private wiki. When it was done, instead of publishing 200 broadsides, they would have made the document public and started Twittering, emailing and Face-booking the hell out of the thing.
  • On the other hand, maybe the Declaration wouldn't have been written at all. Maybe it would have been a viral video that had various people reading different parts of the Declaration, interspersed with video footage and photos that "regular folks" had shared on Flickr and YouTube. There also would have been some cool music to go with it--maybe "Revolution" from the Beatles? Although that would violate copyright.

What do you think? How would social media have shaped the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution?

UPDATE--Check out comments where Thea Cooke has a really interesting take on how the Declaration of Independence might have turned out differently if social media had been used to write it.

Flickr photo via snowriderguy.


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I can definitely see how social media would have changed the distributed information ABOUT the Declaration...but since you're asking how it would have SHAPED the Declaration, that's a whole other thing. We've long understood that our founding fathers built the Declaration, Bill of Rights, Constitution, etc. on the notion that the common man does not know what is best for himself, and the few should govern the prospects of the many. That was easy in a time when most people couldn't even read or write, let alone publish their thoughts.

We now live in a day and age where self-publishing is the norm, dissent is common, and questioning our leaders is old hat. I could see that if Social Media existed in 1776, the common man would have had much more say in what they wanted in the Declaration. I could see it starting as a wiki, edited by the colonists on the whole, rather than by a group of men in one room in Philadelphia. It wouldn't have been as concise, it would have included videos (as you say) of the atrocities committed by the Crown, it would contain hyperlinks to resources such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights or profiles for each of the founding fathers and Generals. (Can you imagine George Washington's Facebook page?)

Of course, since women and minorities are just as efficient at social media, the statement "all men are created equal" would have had a very different meaning. No doubt women would have been able to vote and own property in that day and age, and slavery would have been abolished much earlier. But given the culture back then, that would have been a whole other battle unto itself. :)

A very interesting question you've posed! My apologies for the long-winded response.

Thea--I LOVE your thinking here! I asked how it would have shaped the Declaration, but didn't really answer that myself and the direction you're going in is a really interesting one!

Your point that the Declaration and Constitution would have presumably been more representative is an excellent one. I wonder how the bill of particulars, for example, might have changed if other voices were heard here. What rights would the colonists have wanted for themselves?

This would also be a REALLY cool and interesting HS social studies project, too, wouldn't it? Having kids re-writing the Declaration with hyperlinks, videos, etc.; creating Facebook entries for different historical figures; blogging and commenting with those personas--maybe the blog of a woman, of a minority, etc. That would be incredibly fun and fascinating, I think.

Ok, I'll take the challenge. In the fall I'll be teaching a history course and I'll assign this as my task for the class. These are college freshmen, so I expect they'll either groan or have a lot of fun with it. I'll let you know how it goes and I'll give you both credit for the assignment, natch.

This was a lot of fun to read and think about. Thanks for sharing :D

Dani--I'd love it if you'd keep me posted on this and how it goes. You're right that they may groan, but maybe they'll get totally into it. Personally I would have loved to do something like this rather than write endless papers, but that's me. :-)

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