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Transcript of Activism
On 17 December, 2010, after Mohammed Bouazizi’s fruit cart, the only source of income for his family, was confiscated by law enforcement, no one could have predicted the huge impact this event would have in an uprising for democratisation in predominantly Arab countries. The post that began it all was footage, filmed on a mobile phone, of Mohammed Bouazizi burning himself alive in protest. Posted onto social media sites it went viral and kick started the anger of Arab citizens in a number of countries and encouraged them to rise up and fight for their rights and to democratise states in the region. From that one video grew a plethora of various social media pages and websites, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos, all of which encouraged the protestors to use social media as a tool to make this local issue into an international message and take down their corrupt governments.
Protestors demonstrated in the streets in Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Yemen and numerous other countries all fighting for change in their political systems and a revolution of rights for the people of those nations.
The uprisings surprised many due to the history of suppression of activism by the media in the middle east (Chapsos, p11). For many Arabs social media heralded the prospect of accessing information outside of that presented by the traditional media outlets and this resulted in a leaderless, citizen driven movement. Howard et al (2011) found that “a spike in online revolutionary conversations often preceded major events on the ground.” And Chapsos (p10) writes that “[Social media] helped protesters hold online discussions and organize and stage popular uprisings which, in turn, led to the resignation of two unpopular leaders.” And The Gaurdian's, Peter Beaumont wrote in 2011 that “The instantaneous nature of how social media communicate self-broadcast ideas, unlimited by publication deadlines and broadcast news slots, explains in part the speed at which these revolutions have unravelled … [and] the often loose and non-hierarchical organisation of the protest movements unconsciously modelled on the networks of the web.”
Socio-political impacts of
Social and political activism is not a new phenomenon, however the role of social media in its promotion and calls to arms is. As Xu et al. (2014, p1279) state, “It is evident from the literature that Twitter helps to disseminate information and mobilize the public.” Similarly, activists across many campaigns have learnt how to connect via social media. Xu and his colleagues go on to state, “digital technologies level the field for people who have limited influence in the offline world.” This suggests that the ‘social’ aspect of social media and networks democratises that influence.
A good example is Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic designer. He explains for TEDtalks the enabling power of social media by describing the impact that a simple Facebook message has had on the people of the middle east.
In a region that has been in dispute for thousands of years and where it is ingrained in its societies that the ‘opponents’ are not to be trusted and are out to destroy them and violence is as second nature as breathing, Edry has created something special. In 2012 he produced a poster with a simple graphic and even more simplistic message. And the statement was “Iranians – we will never bomb your country. We love you.” Edry’s audience was initially limited to his Facebook friends. However within the course of one evening the sentiment was picked up by many people he didn’t know and the message spread to Iran. Edry was soon receiving messages of peace and love from Iranians, people who, in the past, would have been considered 'the enemy'. The idea of a poster spreading messages of peace from Israel began to be returned and Iranian graphic designers responded in kind. As Edry states, it had become “communication, a two way story.” The campaign then became news and was presented by CNN, The New Yorker, Stern, Al Jazeera amongst others. Apart from the message the other key element of the campaign was the fact that the posters and messages were based upon ordinary people sending photographs of themselves to be used in the posters and Facebook messages. The rallying cry was taken up by members of the public rather than the region's political leaders, reflecting the democratic nature of social media. By November 2014 the Israel-loves-Iran Facebook page had 124,676 likes and had inspired similar pages (Iran-loves-Israel) and a website: http://thepeacefactory.org/ , along with thousands of people campaigning for peace in the region.
While tensions clearly still exist between Israel, Iran and the Palestinians it can be seen that as a result of this and many other activists (notably the Arab Spring and the Ferguson case studies referred to elsewhere in this presentation) that social media has the power to force change to be enacted and to influence leaders to defer to the wishes of their populace.
Social media: the activist's new best friend
Kate Eddelbuttel, Karina Nielsen, Madeline Nimeh, Michael Reyes-Smith, Hannah Wakem
Brassard, L. and Partis, M. (2014). Standing Their Ground in #Ferguson. Academia. [online] Available at: http://www.academia.edu/8488760/Standing_Their_Ground_in_Ferguson [Accessed 27 Nov. 2014].
Chapsos, C. 2012. Explaining the Role and the Impact of the Social Media in the Arab Spring. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.academia.edu/2370755/Explaining_the_role_and_impact_of_social_media_in_the_Arab_Spring. [Accessed 01 December 14].
Gillespie, T 2010, Tarleton Gillespie on The Politics of Platforms, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, viewed 29 November 2014, <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/luncheon/2010/01/gillespie>.
Howard, P, Duffy, A, Freelon, D, Hussain, M, Mari, W & Mazaid, M. 2011. Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://ictlogy.net/bibliography/reports/projects.php?idp=2170. [Accessed 01 December 14].
The Guardian. 2011. The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/25/twitter-facebook-uprisings-arab-libya. [Accessed 01 December 14].
Oxford Dictionaries. 2014. Dictionary. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/activism. [Accessed 30 November 14].
YouTube. 2012. Israel and Iran: A love story? . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 November 14].
Xu, W; Sang, Y; Blasiola, S; Park, H, 2014. Predicting Opinion Leaders in Twitter Activism Networks. American Behavioral Scientist, 2014, pp.1278-1293 , Vol.58(10), pp.1278-1293
Introduction to digital activism
The online Oxford Dictionaries define activism as "The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change". This presentation explores some of the ways that social media has been used by activists across the globe.
Social media has brought immeasurable change to society. While it has drawn people together and made information more accessible than ever before it also exposes people to thousands of issues and causes from around the globe that were previously not within our scope of understanding and access. The world is becoming a smaller place and thanks to digital citizenship the term ‘global citizen’ is now a reality. Awareness and the ability to inform others of plights is a large part of activism. With social media enabling messages to be spread far and wide, rallying and taking action against local causes can and has spread to international communities and societies. Digital space and communication has broken through barriers, often geographical, that previously prevented messages and issues from being anything other than localised situations.
Case study: Ferguson, Missouri
Case study: “Israel and Iran: A Love Story”
On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown, a young black teen was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Leading up to the fatal shooting, Brown was attempting to rob a convenience store when Wilson showed up to arrest the young teen. There was a scuffle between the police and the teen before Wilson aimed for Brown’s head with his gun and fired a fatal bullet.
While incidents like this happen quite often in America, what distinguished this one was the civil unrest that followed. The tensions started mounting immediately after the shooting, with the people of Ferguson (a town with a majority black population) taking to the streets. The incident appears to have been the final straw in the division between the populace and the seemingly racist authorities. The events that were happening in Ferguson took flight when activists took to social media to make their voices heard.
“Digitized social media has been indispensable in creating new possibilities for greater socio-political literacy across generations as it relates to an array of socio-historical configurations, including visual culture and the constitution of the public sphere, social stratification and inequality, and political mobilization” (Brassard and Partis, 2014). This has been demonstraterd in the Ferguson case with the all the viral images, videos and feelings being distributed world wide. The issue was not something that the applicable governments could sweep under the rug.
Since the verdict was announced, that the police officer was just doing his job and was not indicted, many people across America have taken a stand. There are currently protests going on in nearly all major cities across the US. It is the intent of many people to boycott the national Black Friday sales to demonstrate to the governments that the black community in America is critical to the economy and they are currently feeling that their lives and contributions are undervalued (see https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlackLivesMatterFriday?src=hash ).
Would the power of the people been as strong had social media not been around? It is unlikely to have reached such a large audience. This case study proves how one incident in a small town can turn into an international situation just by the spread of images and feelings via social media. Gillespie (2014) comments that among the powerful social elements of new technologies is its reach and the difficulties that authorities have in editing its message. The Ferguson situation is a reflection of Gillespie’s message and a demonstration of the power of social media to spread a message asynchronously and to reach a vast audience while unable to be checked by authorities.
Case study - Arab Spring
Social media has enabled localised causes to become national and international through democratising the communications channels. It's insidiousness, reach and anonymity have galvanised peoples in ways that have rarely, if ever been seen before.
In each case study the protests essentially became predominantly driven by social media platforms and this behaviour is becoming increasingly common place worldwide.
Slogans and banners from protestors have depicted signs encouraging people to protest digitally and attack the governments through social media. As Chapsos states, “The chronicle of the uprisings in the Arab world… presents two protagonists that led to the final act of revolt: civil society and social media.”
Two major barriers to effective activism have been breached and blown away by the use of social media: geographical and speed, which allow disparate peoples to take up the same causes.
The danger is that unintended consequences can occur and activists need to mindful of these possibilities. However, as "Israel and Iran: A Love Story?" demonstrates, social media may even have the power to enable light to be seen at the end of a historically long and difficult tunnel.
One unintended affordance of social media platforms being used for activism is that social unrest can affect those who support the activists. As an example, in Ferguson the reactions included rioting and violence with supporters of Mrs Brown having their shops, businesses and homes looted and damaged due to the indiscriminate nature of the protestors' actions. In other words it can be argued that there is a fine line between activism and anarchy and social media was the driver for both.
However in the Arab Spring the results included the toppling of two governments and the rise of people power in nation-states that traditionally shunned the democratisation of power. The concern is that people power can lead to anarchy in much the same way as the Ferguson situation. Even democracies concentrate governing power in a handful of elected representatives.
The power of social media also lies in its speed. Overnight, Edry's war cry was taken up by hundreds of people he didn't know. Images of Arab Spring protests went viral with the world's media exposing, second-hand, to those people who hadn't already seen the images, protests and activism online.