New Media and Social Movements

Social-Media-the-new-social-movement.jpgThis wiki's research explore the relationships between political movements and Government agenda, exploring how digital media tools can aid social movement and inform the policy making process.

Key topics:

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Inspiration and momentum sparked by the Arab Spring triggered world wide social movements in 2011. While some, like the Chinese Jasmine revolution were squashed, Occupy Wall Street has gained a foothold in cities across the world. Social media has acted as a catalyst in these movements, allowing rapid organization and response amongst activists, as well as fueling international media channels. The Arab Spring was triggered by the success of the uprisings in Tunisia. Activists across the Middle East were inspired and encouraged to mobilize with measures of victory achieved by Egypt and Libya, amongst other countries. Social media helped to overcome organizational barriers previously enforced by governments, for example public gatherings and anti-state behavior.

The Arab Spring and OWS have experienced coverage and participation worldwide but this was not the case with the Jasmine Revolution. The three movements are being connected in terms of means, not goals. The Arab Spring and the Jasmine Revolution are fights for a complete overhaul of government. Contrasting this, OWS is against the government system and the structure of the economy.

The Arab Spring

While characteristics of economic hardship were present in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya at the time of the revolutions these conditions had been present for many years, and were not the triggers for the movements seen in the Arab Spring. Professor Eva Bellin of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University has identified four key factors that were essential 2:

  1. An emotional Trigger, either positive or negative
  2. A calculation of risk that resulted in the belief that protest would not result in a lethal response from the armed forces
  3. The abandonment of the ruler by the military
  4. The use of social media to enable speedy organization of protestors and assist in global news coverage


Occupy-Wall-Street-protes-007.jpgOccupy Wall Street, a movement driven forward by social media, was inspired by Tahir Square. Coordinated by websites, YouTube videos and twitter feeds, social media makes collective action more effective. These channels continue to be a significant means for marches and occupying cities. Social media has allowed people who cannot physically take part in the movements to get involved. As a result of support shown through online donations, over $500,000 has been collected. Through low intensity links, such as Facebook, a network has easily formed. As one activist noted, “Social networking has made networks sticky, you meet people in a working group, and then you get their email address and then they are showing up in your gchat box and suddenly you recognize each other online, I think it is complimenting the real world network formation that is going on, it makes those networks a little stickier.” The participants connect with one another and their ideas and actions are noted and added to. Occupy Wall Street began in New York City and this has enabled it to be visible to the world through traditional and nontraditional media.

Chinese Jasmine Revolution

C409N17H_2005資料照片_N71_copy1.JPGThe Chinese Jasmine Revolution in China was influenced by the Arab Spring, even taking its name from Tunisia’s national flower. Chinese activists attempted to coordinate their own movement by making calls on websites and through emails, setting up a Western Facebook page, but on the date of the initial march less than 100 people showed up, and less people in the following marchs.

There are several Facebook Pages for the Chinese Revolution, the main page has 2,712 “likes”. Facebook, however, is not the key method of social media in China. The microblogs(or "Weibo"), Renren are such platforms. On the Weibo, which is the main portal for Chinese youth, there are no references about the Jasmine Revolution (no results). People can share their opinions, as long as they are not over some line and be influential. The Jasmine Revolution failed for four key reasons:
  1. The government coordinated censorship quickly and communication was blocked. Most people did not even know CJR.
  2. The movement was coordinated by Chinese nationalists living outside of China. The general public did not support the movement and does not eagerly want to see the government overthrown.
  3. In China the government runs the mainstream media and monitors the social media. They have the power to shutdown and censor these tools and shape public opinion. And public are generally satisfied with current situation with Chinese edition of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
  4. Movements need a large group of people and an supportive elite that spreads the message and increasing awareness among different social and economic levels of the populations. These groups working simultaneously can penetrate the power structures. In the case of the Jasmine Revolution, China did not have the support of this elite class. Moreover, the organizors of CJR have conflicts among themselves.

China’s Response to Occupy Wall Street

occupy-wall-street-chinese.jpgThe Chinese government allows organizing and web-searching of events related to Occupy Wall Street, but only does so depending on the intent behind the actions. China has expressed its support of OWS as an anti-capitalist movement and a warning to the United States government to look at the problems in their own country before criticizing China.

The Chinese government allows the web-searching of “Occupy Wall Street” and the discussion of the movement, identifying this as an opportunity to promote anti-capitalism. A user can search “Occupy Wall Street” in the microblog, but cannot specify Occupy in Specific city, for example, Occupy Beijing.

On October 1, China’s National Day, blogger Sima Pingbang uploaded a lengthy article entitled “Support American People’s Great Wall Street Revolution”. The article stated that events in the US herald a global revolution that will bury capitalism. The opinion leader of the Left Wing Party, a Maoist, published an article on his blog to get public support for OWS, because it is in support of Socialist ideals and against Capitalism. The website of the leftist party, Utopia, has a page dedicated to the “Wall Street Revolution” and the “Death of Capitalism”.

During the Jheng Jhou event of October 6th, hundreds of residents rallied to support OWS for these ideals. The government remained silent. Intensive coverage of OWS support continued until the 15th of October. Surrounding the Global Day of Action on October 15th, traditional media was not allowed to report on the Occupy Movement and in the following months, the overall tone covering the movement has no longer been supportive.

In response to the Global Day of Action, the Facebook pages, "Occupy China", "Occupy Bejing", "Occupy Shanghai", "Occupy Guangzhou" and "Occupy Nanjing" were created, giving a voice for anti-government movements. These were reminiscent of the Jasmine Revolution because a Facebook page announced the movement. Without a doubt, the government was afraid that these Occupy cities' pages (less than 1,000 "likes" in total) could cause serious results. If the OWS movement spreads to China, the nature of this movement will change from against the financial sector to anti-government. Therefore, no matter why or how it could happen, in China, this kind of social movement will eventually, most likely, turn against the political party or regime. It is in the government leader’s best interest to change the tone immediately.

Since October 15th, there is no voice related to the domestic action appearing in traditional media and all former coverage has been removed. OWS can still be discussed on new media platforms, as long as nothing is related to anti-government.In this case, the government’s behavior was directly influenced by the social media platform of Facebook.

How Governments Use New Media

Examining the government use of new media, both positives and negatives emerge. In China, new media is a help and a hindrance to movements. Networks of activists form easily through new media platforms, allowing the formation of movements. These same tools are utilized by the government to monitor activists, spread different opinions and, most extremely, shut down the Internet to cease communication.

In the US all major politicians have a presence in new media, i.e. twitter accounts, Facebook pages and websites. New media is used by the government to directly respond to citizens. It is utilized to promote civic engagement. Government figures have responded to comments and questions on OWS through new media channels.

How the Net Aids Dictators

facebook-in-egypt.jpgBased on Evgeny Morozov's talk on How the internet could impede democratization, the following critical points can be highlighted and taken into account to analyze the potential that technology has in terms of promoting changes within regimes or changes of regime. Intended versus actual use of technology should not be confused.

Moreover, the assumption that if you give people enough connectivity, and devices, democracy will inevitably follow does not stand. The following cases exemplify ways the Internet helps oppressive regimes stifle dissent.

In the first place, Governments are using cyberspace for propaganda purposes. Authoritarian governments are hiring, training and paying bloggers in order to leave ideological comments and create ideological blog posts to comment on sensitive political issues. This complements censorship and Internet shut downs.

This is followed by authoritarian deliberation, when governments reach out to their critics and let them engage with each other online. In many cases this strengthens dictators because it facilitates the production and accessibility to information that helps identify emerging political opponents and targets. So encouraging people to go online and share information and data on blogs and wikis produces valuable knowledge for the state apparatus. Moreover, authoritarian governments that engage with the public through social media in decision-making processes share the burden of the policies that they implement, ultimately legitimizing their actions, internally and externally.

Finally, while social media may be changing the economics of social movements, it is a tool for all the actors in the political system so the purpose for which each of them uses this should be considered carefully.

New Media and Social Movement Wiki Contents

Occupy Wall Street, (VR, AB)

Arab Spring, (EW, SG)

China's Jasmine Revolution (HXH)

China's response to Occupy Wall Street