Monday, January 16, 2012

How Social Media Changes Protesting


Social Media has been a trending topic during the recent several years and keeps affecting new facets of human interactions. Even the phrase “trending topic” is mostly used on microblog-style sites, which fit under the umbrella of Social Media (http://www.whatthetrend.com). Popular stats claim that Social Media (SM) Internet interaction has overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the Web and the leading SM portal, Facebook, has more subscribers than the entire population of United States. If Facebook was a country, it would have been the 3rd largest country in the world (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4gt62uAasE)


Social Media Definition
Essentially, social media incorporates the online technology and methods through which people can share content, personal opinions, swap different perspectives and insights into world issues and generally discuss the evolution of media in itself (Jantsch). Social media website content can come in many shapes and forms. One of them is text, which is often used to put across opinions or write web logs (also known as blog). Images and photos are another category; they can display anything from holiday photos to shots by professional photographers. Audio content is the third type of social media content. Podcasts are great example of that type of content. Video also grows in popularity. According to Dybward, Video sites allow anybody with animated graphics to share a visual story about any event, as well as informational, training or marketing material. Since video affects audiences’ senses of vision, hearing and deliver hard to describe motion, channels such as YouTube provide search capabilities used more frequently than Google. Recent “Occupy…” protests are great examples of that phenomenon.

Origin of “Occupy” protest
Occupy Wall Street is an ongoing series of demonstrations in New York City based in Zuccotti Park in the downtown financial district. The protests were initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters. As pointed out on OccupyWallStreet website, they are mainly protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corporate power and influence over government (particularly from the financial services sector), and of lobbyists. The participants' slogan "We are the 99%" refers to income inequality in the United States between the top 1%, who control about 40% of the wealth, and the rest of the population. Even though that concept is only six weeks old, it has grown into a global movement, a subject of countless debates and titles of official definitions. Certain broadcasting networks attempted to convince their audiences that Occupy Wall Street began to lose momentum and significance while not delivering a concise message. Observers were quick to realize that it may have been only a faint attempt to diminish the impact of recent events and quickly turned their attention to computer and smartphone-based portals. Those Social Media portals allowed them to reach populations larger than United States with simple yet powerful statements, comments, images and videos.

Impact of Social Media on Power of Protests
As initial participants of the Occupy Wall street remained active and devoted to their cause, majority of conventional media concentrated on lack of focus and cohesiveness of protesters’ message. Occasional bystander or a casual observer of prime time news may have been convinced to believe that, while latest computer technology allowed crowds to prove strength of their anger, disapproval and importance of public demonstrations. That latest Internet technology knows as Social Media gave its protesting users an assurance that they will not be denied. Conventional media is no longer in control of what is communicated to audiences – people are. In 21st century, when even the third world areas without running water or permanent roofs over residents heads, communicate via smartphones, the reach of social media’s pull and push technology allows information to travel faster than earthquake shock waves (Parr).

What makes social media platforms really powerful is not only number of active users, but also ease of access and speed of searches. That unsolicited and unmoderated content makes first pages of Google search engine results rather quickly due to significant activity of unique users who tend to link to and from those popular streams of information. Recent protesters noticed that clout and used it to work around TV and print media channels’ reluctance to show objective images of their efforts.

Protests that took place decades ago formed around physical activities and took very long to spread given analog communication channels and limited forms of data and image transmission. 20th century protesters’ paper petitions or door-to-door campaigns may have been effective, but had very limited scope and were very inefficient. Even the bloodiest conflicts took months to spread in small geographical areas. For instance, when anti-communist protests that violently erupted in August of 1980 on Northern coast of Poland, it took until December of that year for residents of southern part of the country (only 300 miles away) to see short mentions of those events on public TV and in print (http://www.gdansk-life.com/poland/solidarity). In that reality, it took nine years for those activists to get what they postulated about.

Social media Internet technology made that form of communication and making global impact much easier these days. Some might argue that the Internet itself changed how world reacts to protests these days. However, only the benefits of social media, where global communities share equal and immediate access to impactful information and important status updates gave the vehicle of protest new wheels and stronger propulsion. Thanks to social media, recent “Occupy” protests remain a focal point of news not only on Wall Street, New York, NY, but globally and with much stronger presence than protesters of communist states in the eighties (Schweitzer).

Overview of Changes that Social Media brought to Protesting
Aside from obvious ease of access to independent information in form of enhanced pull technology, Social Media brings several other changes to protesters’ toolkits. SM also serves as a great broadcasting medium, and if information is widely and socially approved, it will find its way to the top of web search results and into conversations of millions of casual users of social networking sites. Individuals, local teams, remote groups, national communities or global movements are no longer dependent of conventional media broadcasters (Mills). No first page columns in newspapers, prime time TV or popular news anchors are required to allow for news to make headlines where relevant content is shared via social media.

1 comment:

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