Can we employ digital media to drive protests?

After studying the social-movements in the Arab world, I believe that social networks were partially responsible for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In the journal “Role of the Digital Media” Phillip N. Howard and Muzammil M. Hussain illustrate how digital media forms, specifically the Internet, social media, and mobiles phones, contributed to political uprisings and democratization.  New information and communication technologies gave individuals the ability to spread protest messages, organize political action, build networks, create social capital, and consider taking shared action (36).

In Egypt and Lybia, activists employed the social-media networks of Facebook and Twitter to communicate about protest plans and play games with the regime officials watching their Internet activity. (43) Facebook created an “invaluable logistical infrastructure” for planning the first stages of the protests (39). Additionally, Facebook mobilized action against dictators by documenting tragedies with digital tributes and protest icons (48).  From updates about a protestor in Lybia to a page created as a digital tribute in Egypt, Facebook created a web of inter-connected families and friends. In both countries, Facebook brought together individuals with a sense of community and shared feelings of sympathy (38). In Lybia, Facebook updates with messages and pictures about a protest icon, who was hospitalized after being abused by the police for fighting a fine, encouraged a protest that was first joined by lawyers and students (37). Even more so, in Egypt, a local Google executive Wael Ghonim stimulated an uprising by creating a Facebook Page “We are All Khaled Said” to pay tribute to a blogger who was beaten to death by the police for exposing government corruption (38).  Were you aware that Facebook pages that document tragedies and build social ties have the potential to ignite social protests?  Is this shocking?

The role of digital media organizing opposition in Arab protests relates back to Clay Shirky’s theories about coordinating group action in today’s new media environment. In his book Here Comes Everybody, he claims that the digital media landscape of the Internet in modern society enhances the ability for individuals to coordinate group action more efficiently and effectively.  Shirky believed that “[w]e now have communications that are flexible enough to match our social capabilities, and we are witnessing the rise of new ways of coordinating action that take advantage of that change”  (20). Do you believe that the Internet and new social tools mediated social protests by spurring collective action and group activity across  digital media platforms?

Jami Levin

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1 Response to Can we employ digital media to drive protests?

  1. danicawhitfield says:

    I think that you bring up a very good point in saying that Shirky claimed “…Internet in modern society enhances the ability for individuals to coordinate group action…”. I think the key word here is enhances because as you brought up with your question – it seemed as if social media really enhanced the protests. I believe that Social Media mediated (not moderated) the protests because it wasn’t the main factor but it did play a large role. The Internet certainly allowed collective action to happen much easier (as Shirky would agree) because of the enhanced communication methods that Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube provided.

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