How Social Media Brought the UN General Assembly to the World

If London 2012 was the “Social Olympics,” then the 2016 UN General Assembly should be dubbed the “Social UNGA.”

This year’s UNGA leveraged the suite of new media tools rolled out by Facebook and Twitter over the past year to bring the two-week long meeting of world leaders and influencers to the masses. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the importance of social media as a powerful tool to change the world for the better during his UNGA address.

The White House used Facebook Live to stream President Obama’s final UNGA address as president on Tuesday. The livestream has since reached over 1 million Facebook views. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada also used social media creatively by sharing custom graphics to highlight key phrases of his speeches.

Developed nations with robust social media presences were not the only ones that gained traction across the world wide web over the past two days. The UN’s social media team spoke with various developing nations about the different issue areas that are most important to them during this year’s UNGA, elevating these global leaders voices and exposing them to new audiences.

Kenya’s minister of health spoke with the UN social media team in a Facebook Live interview regarding major health risks for his country, as well as for sub-saharan Africa, which reached over 2,000 people thus far.

Similarly, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos spoke with the UN social media team in a Facebook Live interview after he addressed the UN, and the world, about the peace agreement that Colombia signed with FARC on August 26. His interview has reached over 6,600 views on the platform thus far.

Twitter is also an important partner during the two weeks of UNGA. The hashtag #UNGA is outfitted with a UN symbol emoji, and world leaders and stakeholders are sharing their thoughts via a custom Periscope filter. UNGA also has custom Snapchat filters, including one specifically about climate change.

Mats Granryd, Director General of a UN stakeholder called Group Social Mobile Association (GSMA), addressed the importance of mobile technologies for development and achievement of goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda via the UN’s custom Periscope filter. This exposed Granryd’s opinion to the 7.3 million Twitter followers of the UN’s account – much more than the nearly 1,900 Twitter followers that Granyrd’s personal account has.

The Department of State continued to leverage their connections to non-profits and household names to share American foreign policy goals. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted a video of himself chatting with a familiar friend, Sesame Street’s Grover, to educate children about refugee children who may be their new classmates this school year.

The UN has also leveraged Instagram as an important platform in humanizing world leaders through storytelling and cinematography. Oftentimes Instagram is viewed as an afterthought platform, or one that is not a priority because it is not text heavy. However, the UN was able to promote its account through its already successful Twitter presence.

Team Refugees, the team that was selected by the International Olympic Committee to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, also utilized social media to share their stories and to continue the conversation about the global refugee crisis. The hashtag #RefugeeStories has gained traction during UNGA, and vacation rental tech startup AirBnB promoted their hashtag #BelongAnywhere in conjunction with a fundraising effort for the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). AirBnB will match donations to UNHCR up to $1 million during UNGA.

A photo of Yusra Mardini – the refugee Olympian from Syria who swam her lifeboat to shore using her teeth – with President Obama was tweeted by Ambassador Samantha Power during the GA. It has been retweeted 180 times since yesterday.

With more than 40 percent of the world connected to the internet, the UN has found a way to increase its transparency and relevancy by not only sharing the current events of UNGA, but also the narratives of world leaders, stakeholders, and marginalized peoples. Increasing accessibility to high-level events like UNGA via digital platforms is likely to continue as our capacity to share information continues to evolve and grow.

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