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<nettime> social media & political activism redux
allan siegel on Sat, 1 Nov 2014 14:18:01 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> social media & political activism redux


The recent massive public demonstrations in Budapest against a repressive internet tax, amongst other issues, raises once again questions of the role of social media (and Facebook in particular) as mobilising vehicles for social protest and political activism. As Alice Neerson writes in Open Democracy, "social media facilitate differing degrees of involvement in political action. By lowering the barriers to activism, they make it possible for more people to take small steps as part of a larger movement. When expressed through social media in much larger numbers, public opinion has the potential to influence those in power and to give emotional momentum to thoseâ on the front lines of a struggle.â (Sept. 29) The Budapest demonstrations offer, yet again, some indication of the validity of this observation; it has become facile to forget or dismiss the fact that social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are precisely that: social media. Social media are both a reflection of and channel for the flow of collective, often invisible, realities. Not to dismiss or minimize the nefarious and intrusive qualities that are intrinsic to the most ubiquitous brands of social media, it becomes simplistic (and reductionist) to put aside the manner in which these tools are wielded as factors in political activism. In this context, social media has the capacity, to mobilize public opinion particularly in situations where more formal political institutions have lost touch with or are incapable of responding to latent forms of public discontent and specific political grievances. A very basic survey of recent examples of political activism will illustrate how lethargic (and far too easily corruptible) established political parties are when it comes to comprehending and supporting the issues that ignite and propel social action.


Social medias are neither the primary nor secondary (categorization is inappropriate) factors in political movements; what they can do is make visible the concerns of people inhabiting diverse social spaces as well as the objectives of political discourses that are simultaneously taking place below the radar of neo-liberal elites and their governmental watchdogs (at least temporarily). In this sense, as instruments for rapid forms of communication and as a means for organizing collective actions, they can be utilized (as has been amply demonstrated) to push back against the creeping authoritarianism invading the fragile democracies of the Western world; just as they have been used to foment and activate change in other parts of the world.

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