Over the past few years it has become apparent that social media is playing a major part in how we protest. Wikileaks, Anonymous, the Arab Spring, and, most recently, the Idle No More protests, have all been promoted using digital tools. Once the protest goes viral, it has the capability of sending a message across the internet. Since social media sites are often linked to one another, the protest expands, at an exponential rate, to many users. Suddenly, First Nation rights, for instance, becomes a national, if not international, issue.
I view it like this: social media is the new news. It is how we get our daily picture of the world. Since social media is so personal (everyone has their own social media profile, site, and page), the content that we read becomes more personal. Of course, we should not forget the corporate element. Social media site are also businesses run by CEOs who direct these multinational corporations. Still, the users seem to have a grip, or at least the ability to grip, on how they use the sites.
For a final project, I’ve been looking into how social media is shaping the internet. Is it making it more democratic, more accessible, and diverse? Or is it simply incorporating users into a large, corporate platform? Perhaps both? Regardless, we use social media for the most basic purpose: to communicate a message, whether it be to simply update our Facebook profile or protest how the government treats us. Social media enables us to communicate on a level that would have seemed impossible a decade ago.
However, what happens when social media becomes capable of actually shaping how we govern ourselves? Can social media help us gain political autonomy? The IdleNoMore protests are an interesting example of this. Twitter feeds promoting the protests are buzzing with rally cries, angry tweets, and hopes that the protests succeeds. Some feeds have become sites of controversy. One, I believe, was even hacked. Who is doing the hacking?
What is interesting is that it seems social media has done the impossible: created spaces where users are equal. How these spaces are used is what creates hierarchies, networks, and establishes power. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and WordPress, are all spaces that regular people – you and I – meet and speak almost daily. So, who controls who? Who is the power? Is power more shared? Compromised?
I like to think of power in terms of how Michel Foucault describes it. In The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, , Foucault describes power as the following:
“[Power is] the multiplicity if force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization; as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them, as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formation of the law, in the various social hegemonies”
So, power is the networks, or the multitude of networks, which struggle and tug-o-war with one another online. When Hactivists shut down News of the World, for instance, they also received a backlash from corporate groups who sought to out them. News of the World failed, Anonymous persists.
I hope I am not showing my bias, since, up to five years ago I would have gladly shown this bias and sometimes it gets hard to pass as ignorant to issues that are happening through the nation and the world. Digital media has given me, you, and all of us, the tools to at least communicate these issues. Imagine if our predecessors, such as those who participated in World War Two, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Bosnian-Herzegovina war and subsequent genocide, etc, had the ability to speak out? To speak up? How power would shift.
What about the Syrian War occurring right now? Twitter and social media has been repeatedly shut down in Syria for a reason.
Further, what pictures would we have of these times?
There is no doubt a trend occurring. Social media is shifting how the regular individual views power. Anyone with a Facebook, Twitter feed, or blog, is capable of speaking to a mass audience and, as a result, power no longer is contained within your family and friends networks (only if you really want it to be, I suppose).
Overall, the latest accounts of digital protest have shown us that we do not need to idle anymore. The tools are ours to use. I will likely be writing a little more on this issue as I complete a reading course where the above topics are the focus.
Stay tuned. Keep talking.
I used to attend a school in Toronto and many of my classmates were young Bosnian refugees. At the time, I had no clue where they came from and why. After a few history lessons a decade later, I realized the world they emigrated from was so far removed from my own. Further, the Berlin Wall and its after effects has been something I became interested through music and other cultural venues. Naturally, I am attracted to intersection of cultural and world affairs, as well as art and world affairs. Digital media is this intersection.