Tag Archives: Digital Media

Activism: from off to on

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Although the Internet as a concept was created over 30 years ago, it’s been only two decades since we saw a true rise of this technology. The proliferation of the network, as well as its integration in the world economics, trade, culture and even politics are undeniable nowadays. The rise of the Internet provided the world with a number of new technologies, such as online banking, social networks, e-democracy, online retail etc.  I already wrote about the concept of  social media, which is considered to be among the most important after-effects of the Internet expansion, and today I would like to take a closer look at the implications and consequences of this phenomenon. There is a significant number of implications of social media, with grass-roots journalism, Internet activism, online marketing and viral content to be among the most notable. In this post I will focus on the online activism, and in particular social media and social movements.

Social movements and the Internet

To begin with, social movements, being a part of civil society, have always played a crucial role in resisting and carrying out a social change. Dealing with specific political, economic, cultural and, most important, social issues, these movements have always been in the forefront of struggle for justice and improvement of the existing social structures [1]. Social movements have always adopted the very advanced technologies which helped them gain support, spread the ideas and agenda, and to raise money [2]. The emergence of Web 2.0 and social media allowed social movements to start to actively use these new tools and improve their communication, coordination and cooperation. Thus, adding to the traditional offline activities, social movements started using the advantages which were offered by the online realm – cheap means of communication, fast information updates, comprehensive coverage of target groups and many more.

Although any Internet-related topic is relatively new and thus evolving, academia nowadays offers a wide range of concepts and explanations regarding online activism of social movements. I do not pretend to choose the most appropriate ones, especially given that it is practically impossible, given that the perception of the Internet generally, and social media in particular differs. Hence, I picked up three concepts, which in my opinion can reflect the most notable implications of the online activism with regard to social media.

Mass-self communication

Manuel Castells talks about the concept of mass self-communication which emerged due to the rise of the Internet, Web 2.0 and social media. Scientist argues that the phenomenon of mass self-communication is “self- generated in content, self-directed in emission and self-selected in reception by many that communicate with many” [3].  The new tools offered by the Internet, primarily social media tools, were instantly adopted by social movements, as the new technologies offered these movements means “to build their autonomy and to confront the institutions of society in their own terms and around their own projects” [4]. More than that, the diffusion of the Internet, wireless communication and social media eventually changed the very organizational structure of social movements, making them more decentralized and democratic by their nature.

Hence, the proliferation of mass self-communication and the Internet among people all over the world gave social movements a chance to “enter the public space through a variety of different channels” [5]. More than that, social media offered social movements a range of tools and platforms to reach global audiences with minimal costs and coordinate cooperate and communicate fast and cheap.

Power and counter-power

matrixI find Manuel Castells’ concept of power and counter-power useful when it comes to online activism. The theory implies the confrontation of elites and non-elites, which can be seen in this case as the confrontation of online activists (social movements) and established elites and systems in general.

One of the most important steps for political movement in achieving its goals has always been to be represented in media with broad audiences and significant influence [6]. Although social media is gaining in influence and spreads all over the world, mainstream media, such as state-owned channels, still remain “the main channel of communication between the political system and citizens” [7]. Hence, one shouldn’t overestimate the role of social media. Although the development of new technologies has diminished the role of traditional media, the latter is still influential and strong.  However, social media offer social movements alternative ways to proliferate their ideas and ways to gain support without presence in mainstream media. And in this respect, the online world and social media has contributed to the rise and influence of social movements.

Self-organization

Christian Fuchs suggests conceptualizing social movements as self-organizing systems. This lets us look at online activism and social media from a different angle. Fuchs states that “social self- organization in a broad sense can be understood as re-creation or self-reproduction of society…Social self-organization is based on cooperation, participation, self-determination, and grassroots democracy” [8]. Social self-organization is “the principle of bottom-up social organization that stimulates the capacity to act” [9]. Undeniably social media offer the necessary tools for online activists to implement the principles of self-organization efficiently and advantageously for society.

Blogs, social networks and other manifestations of social media are self-organizing systems by their nature. In addition, social movements always emerged as signs of grass-roots democracy, thus the rise of social media was a natural contribution for social movements. The discussions and arrangements made on social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, are way more efficient and less time-consuming than the traditional means of socialization and planning. More than that, online activism requires fast organization and sometimes instant reaction to certain events, which can be easily achieved through the means of social media. And lastly, the Internet in general and social media in particular also affect “the relationship between groups and movements and their principal targets: government, citizens, and mainstream media” [10].

Occupy Wall Street

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There is a huge number of social movements presented online. Occupy Wall Street is among the most recent ones, and perfectly exemplifies the advantages a movement can get using social media. Vast proliferation of the ideas, online discussions, sharing video, audio and photo content, creation of online petitions and arranging events through the means of such social media platforms as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – this is a short list of the tools used by this movement to reach its goals. Although the movement achieved practically nothing, I do believe it sets a good example for future social movements and online activists. Regardless of the outcome, the powers and influence which can be gained through the means of social media are undeniable and will eventually change the world for the better.

References:

[1] Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Social theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge. P 81

[2] Wejnert, Barbara. “Integrating models of diffusion of innovations: a conceptual framework.” Annual review of sociology 28.1 (2002): 297-326.

[3] Castells, Manuel. 2011. Communication Power: mass relationships in the network society. In Media and Society, ed. James Curran, 9. London: Bloomsbury.

[4] Castells, Manuel. 2011. Communication Power: mass relationships in the network society. In Media and Society, ed. James Curran, 10. London: Bloomsbury.

[5] Castells, Manuel. 2009. Communication power. New York: Oxford University Press. P 303

[6] Loader, Brian D., and Mercea, Dan. 2012. Social media and democracy: innovations in participatory politics. New York: Routledge.

[7] Castells, Manuel. 2011. Communication Power: mass relationships in the network society. In Media and Society, ed. James Curran, 4. London: Bloomsbury.

[8] Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Social theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge. P 31

[9] Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Social theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge. P 18

[10] Chadwick, Andrew. 2006. Internet politics: states, citizens, and new communication technologies. New York: Oxford University Press. P 118

What is so “social” in social media?

Social-Media

The exponential growth of the Internet over the last two decades as well as the development of so-called Web 2.0 gave birth to an interesting phenomenon of Social Media. In this this blogpost I will elaborate on this concept, give definitions and try to understand what social media actually is.

To begin with, I believe I should introduce myself. My name is Roman Rogozhnikov and I am a student of a master program in Digital Media at Uppsala University. I was born and raised in Russia and received my bachelor’s degree in Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University). I studied political science for 4 years and a bit more than a year ago realized that political process in the online realm is something what I am really interested in. Internet activism, usage of social media for political campaigns and e-democracy – these are the areas of particular interest for me. Hence, the path I chose by studying digital media in Sweden is not surprising. More than that, my interest in social media as a concept as well as its applications in offline activities is something I am passionate about, and that is why writing posts regarding social media is seen by me as a perfect opportunity to deepen my knowledge within my area of interest.

So what is social media? There is a bunch of definitions both on the Internet and in academic articles. I do not think that my fellow readers will be interested in going through a hundred scientific definitions of the same phenomenon. Instead, I would focus on two definitions which help us perceive social media from different angles.

To start with I would like to use the explanation of what is social media provided by Kaplan & Haenlein. They state that “social media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content”[1]. Hence the authors draw a line between the terms Web 2.0 and social media, claiming that Web 2.0 should only be considered as a platform for the evolution and development of social media, rather than a synonymous term. I absolutely agree with the authors given that not all the user-generated content is social media, although all the social media is a user-generated content.

Another perspective is given by Boyd & Ellison, who emphasize 3 pillars on which the concept of social media is based[2]. Firstly, social media is a web-based service constructing a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system. This should be  clear if you take into consideration the fact that in order to use practically any social media one should create a profile and some information from this profile, at least a nickname, is public by default. Secondly, Social media is a service which articulates a list of other users with whom they share a connection. This statement is supported by the name of the concept itself, as the word “social” must imply some kind of social and inter-personal communication. And thirdly, social media is a service which allows users to view and traverse their lists of connections and those made by other users within the system. This is the most questionable statement of the definition given that some of the social media networks do not allow users to view one’s connections. Nevertheless, the principle of “social” within the concept of social media implies interconnectedness and constant interaction of users.

Hence, we can clearly see that even two out of thousands of definitions of social media can give us different perspectives on this phenomenon. Why? Because it is a new and thus an evolving concept. Moreover, it is comprehensive and overwhelming. Additionally, the broader definition includes wider range of networks, hence it is sometimes a matter of definition whether some webpage can be considered social media or not. In my opinion the combination of the aforementioned definitions allow us to include in the discussion practically all the social media networks currently in existence. In the following posts I will try to elaborate on this.


[1] Kaplan, Andreas M. and Michael Haenlein. 2010. “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media.” Business horizons 53(1):59-68

[2] Boyd, Danah M. and  Nicole B. Ellison. 2007. “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13(1):210-230