Activism Forms in the world of Social Media

By the turn of the twentieth century media organization has established themselves as voices of their societies, although more often they were the voices of politicians in their countries. However, its connection as a source to propagate ideas, the concerns and the struggles of the people was never lost. Perhaps in the second half of the twentieth century with the emergence of many groups advocating or protesting many issues, whether it was the woman’s movement, or Vietnam war in the U.S, or the anti-nuclear movement in the Germany back in the seventies and many other, these activist groups turned to the media as a sphere of political action. Perhaps social movements are the most that sought to public communication medium in order to achieve their projects.

However, there is a distinction must be made for Media activist where according William Carroll they differ in their social sources, sites, strategies and interventions which he identified following as the political economy tied to these media: (1) the institutional architecture of media organizations control and access to production and distribution; (1) the production process within media organizations (including notions of ethics and professionalism), (3) the content, or texts, frames, messages and programmes disseminated through that production process; (4) media audiences, whose attention to and negotiation of the multiple but structured potential meanings of media texts condition the latter’s ideological effectivity; and the cultural and structural ‘environment’ of communication institution” (Caroll, 2006). We can see these really pertain to the traditional mainstream media, so it won’t be surprising when we see how with the help of the new communication technologies people have found new outlets for their activist pursuits.

To shed light on some of activist movements taking place I think one of the most prominent ones are those that are called Hashtag Activism on social media, where we have seen many protests campaigns organizing themselves or voicing their news mainly on Twitter (since it’s the one that has #Hashtag) which they were able to reach to a vast majority of people all over the world. Many other movements come to my mind such as the Arab Spring, where I think the most important element used was social media but then once people gathered on the ground another dynamic would take place in which people began to bond in groups and kind of support each other, at least that’s what happened in Tahrir square in Egypt during the 2011 revolution which threw president Hosni Mubarak. I think these two examples take precedence now a day’s adding to them Occupy Wall Street in the U.S which also used social media extensively to spread its news. And of course there will always be the Indymedia which is one of the early versions of activism with the help of technological means of videotaping the Seattle protests back in the nineties.

Today, we have social media as the newest form of utilizing media for activism, previously we had examples such as “Samizdat” in communist Russia, or the traditional print form magazine “Red Pepper” in the U.K. I have to ask what will be the next new outlet for activists to spread their word.

The 140 character activism- Hashtag as part of public awareness campaigns

Social media activism has at least since the political protest on Tahrir square in Egypt become an efficient tool for people to participate and contribute to an online media platform, thus creating own online communication channels to maintain the spirit of a revolution. As expressed in the article The revolution will be twittered: ´You cannnot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They bypass your established media, they can broadcast to one another, they can organize as never before. It may be true that the possibilities by social media platforms as Twitter can be of benefit for the civil society as the media of them and for them, but on the other hand four years after Tahrir the debate if there is a real power of social media in a revolution to change an existing system is ongoing and it does not seem there is any clear answer if yes or no.

It may be courageous to proclaim that only social media have helped revolutions like in Tahrir, rather it must have more been an interplay of more factors. But what social media activism shows is that Twitter or other social media networks can accelarate the effects of such protests and serve as models for further activism on Twitter. For many media activists the hashtags can be a way of how to draw attention to any important issue that may be neglected or downplayed by traditional media. The use of  hashtags on Twitter may be created to raise public awareness about any current issue in the world.

In the last year we could wittness many of these kind of Twitter activism via hashtags that have gone very viral. The #Ferguson was a parallel reaction to the protests in the USA about the jury decision in the Michael Brown case shooting by a police officer that lead to Michael Brown´s death. The initial hashtag further in days transformed into #blacklivesmatter and other related hashtags, that focused on raising awareness or stir the discussion over police treatment of African-Americans. According to some author´s it was Twitter that in case of Fergusson put a light on the issue, that may have otherwise been downplayed or even forgotten. Moreover as said by Desmond-Harris from Vox the hashtag virality put the issue on media agenda: ´Twitter, Instagram, and Vine have given McKesson and others without existing platforms or influential contacts a tool to transform age-old racial justice issues into major national news´. The same year we saw another Twitter action to raise the agenda of what the world is talking about. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag was there to virtually stir the debate about the return of the kidnapped Nigerian girls or to create more pressure on official bodies to take steps to free the girls. This hashtag campaign became so viral, that even the first lady Michelle Obama has been seen to support it as well as many other famous people and celebrities.

These and many other even current examples like the hashtag for the major earthquake in Nepal show that when we focus on activism on Twitter there really is something called as ´hashtag activism´- the essence of 140 characters to spurt public debates and awareness campaigns. According to Phillip Howard from the Digital Activism Research Project the ´hashtag activism´ can also be described as ´…what happens when someone tries to raise public awareness of a political issue using some clever or bitting keyword on social media´. The itself power of these kind of campaign like the online revolution debates are quit interlinked and seem to have the same dillemas, about whether such campaigns using hashtags can actually bring a real change or if they are just civic or public PR tools to support a cause or an issue, but the actual happening should come not from an online world but from real life policies and actions. But one way or another the ´hashtag activism´ as the latest form of online activism is I think about to stay to let people participate and make them part of the online activism movement.

Reference:

´Hashtag Activism: What does it mean for the public sphere´ In Talking Politics, accessed at: https://talkingpoliticsjomc.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/hashtag-activism-what-does-it-mean-for-the-public-sphere/

Sullivan, A. (2009) “The Revolution will be Twitted”, The Atlantic, accessed at: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/print/2009/06/the-revolution-will-be-twittered/200478/

https://twitter.com/flotus/status/464148654354628608