STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The NBA season is over, with the Golden State Warriors easily pushing aside the Cleveland Cavaliers to claim the championship - sorry, Cleveland. The matchup between two star-heavy teams drew big TV audiences. But the finals had an even bigger audience on social media, which is not unusual for the NBA. Commentator Ramesh Srinivasan looks at how the league's bold approach to social media has effects well beyond the world of basketball.
RAMESH SRINIVASAN, BYLINE: It was in Egypt's Tahrir Square that I became a critic of the idea that social media somehow powers activism.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
SRINIVASAN: I was there researching social media's impact on movements and revolutions. Across the world, I've seen how it is great at spreading information when it is able to reach people who normally would not be connected to traditional news sources. But during the Arab Spring, I also saw how social media locks that information into bubbles that are constructed in ways that we barely control or see. In Cairo, the bubble was young, educated, middle-class liberals. The failure to break out of that bubble and transform political institutions ended up leading to the military coup in 2013. Since then, my view has changed a bit, in part because of basketball - specifically the NBA.
The NBA has shown that social media can be a great tool in shaping social and political causes. It can do so if those causes are adopted by a strong and engaged organization with a broad reach. The NBA blows away every other professional sports league in the world in terms of social media activity and engagement. It was the first to pass over 1 billion followers on social media. None of the others even comes close.
The NBA, its coaches, its players are among the most active participants on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. This allows it to reach people of different demographics, cultures and places, who use different social media platforms. The NBA also does something the other leagues generally frown on. It uses social media to support the activist causes of its athletes and coaches. This lets the brand of what is basically an entertainment organization vouch for political and social causes. Being attached to the NBA gives those causes greater staying power.
So we see four-time MVP LeBron James and other league stars using technology to amplify awareness of the Black Lives Matter protests of killings of men like Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner. Or Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, using Twitter to speak about anti-immigrant policies and gun violence. Social media can amplify an activist cause if the organization that uses these tools already transcends the bubbles we all recognize when we go online. We see that in action with the NBA.
A hundred and forty characters can be used to gain great power and visibility when you have the right organization behind it. Is that enough to produce lasting political change? That's still not clear, but the NBA is a great space to watch how it could play out.
INSKEEP: Ramesh Srinivasan's new book is "Whose Global Village? Rethinking How Technology Shapes Our World."
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