The Web, Political Mobilization and Protest

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Web has proved to be a powerful tool for mass mobilization and political protest — starting in Moldova and Iran in 2009, then spreading to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab uprisings in the spring of 2011. The London riots later in 2011, as well as the “Occupy” movement in the United States and globally, also harnessed the power of social media.

Views about the role of social media in social mobilization and protest depends on particular situations. While social media’s role in the Arab Spring was praised for bringing “liberation”, during the London riots it was blamed for provoking “anarchy”. There also has been much discussion and debate about the role of Facbook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks in mobilization and protest.

For a general analysis of social media and power, see Clay Shirky‘s essay in Foreign Affair, “The Political Power of Social Media“. Note that this essay was published after the Iranian protest but before the Arab Spring of 2011. Malcolm Gladwell took a different view about the role of social media in this essay in The New Yorker, subtitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted“.

Also see  this article in Mashable on “10 Historical Events Affected By Social Media“. And this article in Mashable on “9 Social Media Uprisings that Sought to Chnange the World in 2011“.

See also this collection of articles published by NATO: “Social Media: Power to the People?” and this Wikipedia proposes a definition of “Internet activism” and provides links to other articles.

Also see this article in Mashable on “10 Historical Events Affected By Social Media“. In early 2012 the “Kony” campaign became one of the most viral videos of all time. See this story, “Millennials shaping foreign policy with Kony 2012?” Also see this article in Mashable, “How Social Media Fuelled the Most Viral Video of All Time”.

For the Moldova events, see “Inside Moldova’s Twitter Revolution“. On the protests in Iran, see this article in the New York Times, “Social networks spread defiance online“. Also see “Internet brings events in Iran to Life” and “Iran’s Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Moment“. On the death captured on YouTube of a young Iranian protester called Neda, see “In Iran one woman’s death may have many consequences“. For a comparison of coverage of these events by old media and new media, see this article in The Economist, “Coverage of the Protests: Twitter 1, CNN 0“.

For social media’s role in the Arab Spring events of 2011, see “The Arab Spring chronicles tweet by tweet“. On Egypt, see “How Social Media Accelerated the Uprising in Egypt“. On Tunisia and Egypt, see “How social media sparked Tunisian and Egyptian revolts“. The actual role of social media in these revolutions is nonetheless debated. See for example, “Was What Happened in Tunisia Really A Twitter Revolution?” and “Why Tunisia is Not a Social Media Revolution“. See also “The Truth about Facebook, Twitter and the Uprisings in the Arab World” and this article in Foreign Policy, “The First Twitter Revolution?” There is also some evidence that regimes can use social media against their populations. See for example, “How Bahrain’s Facebook Uprising Allowed Authorities to Target Protestors“. Also see this opinion piece by Evgeny Morozov, “Facebook and Twitter are just places where revolutionaries go“.

Finally on the London riots of 2011, see “The Role of Social Media in the London Riots” and “Social Media’s Role in the London Riots“. See also “How the London riots showed us two sides of social networking“. For the role of Blackberry in the riots, see “London riots: how Blackberry’s Messenger played a key role“. For the British government’s controversial reaction, see “In the wake of the London riots, British PM proposes social media ban“.

Social media may have been used in mobilizing protest during the London riots, but Twitter and Facebook were also used in the aftermath cleanup effort. See this article, “London riots: social media mobilizes riot cleanup“.

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