For the past few years, one of the hottest topics of discussion has been the role of social media in the modern protest. From the Arab Spring Revolutions to the ongoing Euromaidan protests, demonstrators are using sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote, organize, and document their movement.
Here are six ways how social media platforms have reshaped the modern protest.
One of the most popular examples of how social media can be used to spread information is the famous “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page. After the murder of Said, a torrent of blogs and tweets were made that provided much of the information that was used to report on the incident. When the Facebook page went up, users began to post photos, videos, and other updates about the protest. Some of these links served no organizational purpose and were meant only to share information.
During the recent Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, devices such as the Google Tablet were used to organize the movement. A recent article details the way that Euromaidan is using Facebook to create an interactive map that pinpoints locations where demonstrators can find medical attention, bathrooms, showers, food, and places to rest. By clicking on an icon, you can even find out detailed information about that place such as what supplies are needed.
Social media can also make a movement much more agile in terms of when and where action will take place. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow organizers to reach a mass audience at just a moment’s notice. Rather than working around a pre-established date or time, protestors can now gather and organize in just a few hours or minutes.
Social media offers lower organizational and communication costs that allows a movement to depend less on outside financial sources and create a wider mass appeal. The recent Egypt protests represented the first time in history when a movement comprised of people from such varied political and social backgrounds. Demonstrators in these protests included bloggers, judges, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Coptic Christians.
Shaping the Narrative
Social media has completely re-imagined the way we perceive events around the world. Rather than relying on newspapers to frame a movement in a supposed “objective” light, protestors can now turn to social media and give their own meaning to events. For example, during the recent uprising in Egypt, protestors were able share photos and videos with a mass audience across the world. This ability to comment on an event and circulate information through their own channels allows protestors to frame these events within their own narrative and not that of the media’s.
Law and Order
Police forces all over the world are learning to adjust their protocol when dealing with protests. This is in no small part due to the increased levels of scrutiny that police now face because of social media and cell phone footage. Some police forces have even started using Twitter to communicate with protestors or people who would normally avoid such contact.
Disrupting the Power Structure
During recent events in Ukraine, social media played an important role in overturning a corrupt system. After brutally attacking a girl and leaving her for dead, two criminals were let free thanks to a government connection. However, the girl’s mother uploaded a video of her injured daughter to YouTube and sparked a massive public outrage. Protests ensued and the two men were put back on trial and sentenced to prison.
This incident came to be recognized as a symbol for a series crimes committed by the Ukrainian upper class. It reminded people who the president himself had been convicted of violent crimes in the past and seemed to discredit the government’s absolute authority.
What social media has shown us over the past few years is the many ways in which it can be used as a tool. Not only do Facebook and Twitter give protestors a voice, they give an effective way to communicate with an international community while helping demonstrators organize and coordinate resources.