The role of social media in facilitating social movements has been widely debated. The terms ‘clicktivism‘ and ‘slacktivism‘ are ones I see regularly thrown around within countries that have a relatively liberal online (and offline) presence. However, I feel these arguments are limited in their capacity to see the big picture: that social media can be utilised to empower people who do not have these same liberties (Popova, 2010).
Social media provides the logistics of mobilization, coordination and dissemination to give people without power a platform to organise and facilitate their movements towards change. People fighting for liberation have faced government attempts to remove their internet access because social media is a powerful tool in organising and coordinating mass demonstrations and bringing global awareness to their cause (Mitew, 2014; Popova, 2010).
In the Egyptian Revolution, the government shut down access to internet just two days after the first protest (Mitew, 2014). Likewise, with the current Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, the government has blocked access to certain social media platforms in an attempt to gain control and minimise exposure to the movement. This has been thought to expose the fundamental weakness of social media, however in both cases the people found a way around their censorship.
Following the Egyptian government blocking internet access, Google and Twitter took matters into their own hands to ensure the people retained their voice and connection. A service was set up to allow Egyptian protestors to call a free number and leave a message that would then be extracted to text and tweeted on their behalf (Arthur, 2011; Mitew, 2014).
More recently, the protestors of the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong have developed a way around their network censorship (which includes the blocking of Instagram and Twitter-like platform, Sina Weibo). Protestors are using an “off-the-grid” app called Firechat, which connects people anonymously through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – completely void of mobile signals and internet access (Judah, 2014).
It is easy to argue ‘Slacktivism’ when you come from a liberal society where activism isn’t your only means to freedom. But for those fighting for liberties, like in Egypt and Hong Kong, social media provides the logistics people need to facilitate their action. The fact that governments have attempted to remove access to social media from protestors simply highlights the power of using social media as a tool to freedom.
Arthur, C (2011). Google and Twitter launch service enabling Egyptians to tweet by phone, The Guardian. Accessed 28/09/14. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/feb/01/google-twitter-egypt
Judah, S (2014). #BBCtrending: Hong Kong’s ‘off-grid’ protesters, BBC News Trending. Accessed 02/10/14. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-29411159?ocid=socialflow_facebook
Mitew, T (2014). The social network revolutions: #mena #arabspring #maidan, Youtube. Accessed 28/09/14. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt3gzJ9tB7w&list=UU2RaUOoqFYKBjm0JQ4gwzHQ&index=5
Popova, M. (2010) Malcolm Gladwell Is #Wrong’ Change Observer, The Design Observer Group. Accessed 29/09/14. Available at: http://designobserver.com/feature/malcolm-gladwell-is-wrong/19008