Democracy & Online Activism

Social movements have always happened. Societies will always have certain groups of people with common interests or goals organising themselves to communicate their message. They do this to raise awareness on the issue that concerns them. Traditionally these social movements would become relevant because of news articles, word of mouth or people physically going out to the streets to get people involved.

However, as La Rosa (2015) explains in her article, social media has become the new tool to use for a social movement. The main reason for this of course is the ease of information spread in social media. We live in the information era, in which we are saturated with information to the point where we nearly become numb to it, so to make sure that people are aware of social movements, presence in social media is a must.

An interesting fact that has come to be with social media’s involvement in societal issues is the extension of activism to the masses. Social movements have never had as many people involved before. Traditionally, protests and social petitions would gravitate around a certain niche of people who were connected in their personal or professional lives. These connections were limited by many factors, as basic as space and time. If you weren’t at the right place at the right time, you just weren’t involved with what was going on. The internet has replaced those limitations, making it mush easier to take part.

Of course, this has been used many times by organisations such as NGOs to increase their numbers as to people involved with their activism. As Fung A. (2012) says in his article about viral engagement:

[…] Digital communication technologies and on-line social networks ease: (i) the flow of information and so can accelerate its spread to millions of others and (ii) lower the costs of certain kinds of action — expressing a “like,” signing a petition, even giving money — on the part of the mobilized.

It becomes so easy to become an activist in certain topics that it allows literally anyone with an internet connection to have an impact on certain issues, by either making it more relevant, or choosing to ignore it completely.

In Spain we have had a big increase in online activism with the rise of a new far-left wing party, called “Podemos” (“We can”, translated to english. They have been tagged as a populist party, and a big part of that populism is reflected in having a lot of contact with the public through social media. On a daily basis they are creating new hashtags and content to get people involved with current national issues. For example, today a new hashtag has been created by the party to protest against the budgets not being respected:

To me this is a highly interesting topic, because it’s not easy to determine if this is positive or negative for democracy? It can be seen as positive because it adds a lot of new perspective to the discussion, allowing for issues to be tackled from many different angles and perspectives. However, it can also be considered negative because it reduces activism to it’s most basic form, barely having any real engagement at all.

References:
  • Fung, A & Shkabatur, J. (2012). ‘Viral engagement: fast, cheap, and broad, but good for democracy?’
  • La Rosa, Amaro. 2015.”Social Media and Social Movements Around the World.” Social Media in Politics. Springer International Publishing. 35-47.
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