Social Media As A Tool For Liberty

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).

Opposing views on the role of social media in activism. Image sourced from James Walker, The Generation, 2012.

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).

Screenshot 2014-10-05 16.35.39

Screenshot from Speak to Tweet homepage, a Twitter account set up as a channel for Egyptian protestors to keep their voice.

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).

Image of Firechat in action. Sourced from Kevin Fitchard, Gigaom, 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.

References:

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

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About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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7 Responses to Social Media As A Tool For Liberty

  1. nathan3205 says:

    Hi Charmaine, great use of this weeks sources and finding your own. I wasn’t aware of anything like this happening in Hong Kong, but your explanation has certainly informed me otherwise. I also like that you mentioned in your opening paragraph how social media is being used to “empower” users. I agree that this is the case, just ironic how us Australians have so much freedom that we usually just see it as a means of entertainment.
    However, you’ve incorporated slacktivism into your post, but haven’t really explained what it means. I myself already understand the term due to previous study, but not everyone might. Just a thought…

  2. willamatchett says:

    I loved that you took a different approach to this weeks topic. After what we spoke about in class and from reading everyones blogs, it was assumed we were to speak about slacktivism as a negative because of how we see it inour society. But I really like that you went for a different approach and spoke about the positives. I enjoyed your point about the issues in Hong Kong because it is such a recent issue that I have read about through online media without really grasping it.Good work.

  3. Pingback: Activism of the Cyber Kind | charmainelily

  4. Great post, as someone who is following the HK protests I find it really interesting how they’ve managed to work around the censorship. Popova’s article was also really eye-opening where she points out the shortcomings with Gladwell’s view on this issue but it also raises an interesting question. She defines activism as “any action or set of actions that aims to resolve a problem that diminishes the quality of life of individuals, communities or society.” I take “action” to be the operative word in that definition and by that definition if “social media provides the logistics of mobilization, coordination and dissemination” it seems a tool less to invoke change, more to facilitate change. Would love to hear your thoughts on this 🙂

    http://likingisnthelping.wordpress.com/

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