As I near the finish line in what has been a marathon to prepare for my prelim exams, I picked up two “final” pieces of literature. One is the latest April 2012 edition of Journal of Communication, a special issue on Arab Spring and activists using social media in other locales to organize for political change. The other is Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, by Rebecca MacKinnon, published by Basic Books earlier this year.
I study alternative and “participatory” media, which has been traditionally defined as platforms such as community radio, zines, radical newsprint and more recently Internet projects like IndyMedia. However, one thing I’ve been pondering of late is the implications of new media technologies, most notably social media platforms. Can they too be considered means of “alternative media”? If so, under what conditions? Clearly there are differences between activists developing their “own” tools and infrastructure vs. using corporate owned and controlled platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google, Flicker, etc.). But as the examples of Arab Spring, #Occupy, and #wiunion among others illustrate, activists are using all available tools to coordination protest actions and mobilize support, often parallel to more traditional “alternative” media projects (e.g., the Occupied Wall Street Journal or the Spanish 15M movement’s N1 social network). The questions are under what conditions are activists making these choices, how are they using both “old” and “new” media tools to organize and what are the implications?
Social Media, Networks and Political Protest
The April 2012 issue of Journal of Communication, features articles centered answering questions of how activists are using new media to demand political change, from the relation between Chinese blogs and print media, resisting “networked authoritarianism” in Azerbaijan to, of course, the role of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 and more.