In a global context marked by globalization and neo-liberalism hegemony, social movements have found new media as a powerful mean of counter-discourse production and to ignite actions and interventions in society.
This is due to mainstream media is greatly connected with those interests social movements fight against, thus the latter usually do not have their voice heard by mainstream media nor their viewpoints taken in account.
According to Cammaerts (2007) activism refers to the ability to act and make or change history. Thus, “agency and the makeability of society is central to any tentative definition of activism” in his words. He also quotes another definition of activism from Wikipedia stressing the “intentional action to bring about social or political change” (Cammaerts, 2007, p. 217).
In this regard, it is interesting to note that, while quoting Wikipedia might be criticized by orthodox scholars, when it comes to a literature on new media activism is highly appropriate as Wikipedia in its own right is an example of new media activism which promotes the acknowledge of commons knowledge employing new media.
If mass media have been employed by mainstream political institutions since the twentieth century, we can say that from the last decade of this century onwards, new media have been used mostly for citizen and activist’s initiatives in order to enhance social justice all around the world, in a mode of resistance, production of discourse, strengthening of identities of communities, among other aims.
Atton (2004) quoted by Lievrouw (2011, p. 18) states “that alternative media have sought to be participatory, emancipator, non-commercial, authentic (i.e., faithful to a community’s point of view or experience), and anti-institutional. They combine both ‘creative expression and social responsibility’ in a way that departs from most mainstream media.”
However, it is important to emphasize that using new media does not exclude the use of mass media by social movements and activists when they have means for it. Of course, the combination of both communications is the ideal strategy of intervention in order to pursue and achieve lasting social changes.
In fact, lately we have witnessed powerful mainstream mass media organizations broadcasting contents produced by alternative media or activists using new media.
In addition, we believe that when it comes to activism, it is also crucial the employment of both online and offline media, as both strategies combined can better enhance the public engagement with the social cause, because people are everywhere and choose different modes of communication according to their social context, interests, lifestyles, and needs.
Another fundamental shift on the understanding about communication and its uses by activists is that “the nature of media activism projects is actions in their own right, rather than communication about other “real” actions, as Lievrouw (2011, p. 18) points out.
Activist new media project are categorized in five genres by Lievrouw (2011, p. 19-20): culture jamming, alternative computing, participatory journalism, mediated mobilization, and commons knowledge.
For her, culture jamming borrows, comments on, and subvert elements from popular culture (entertainment, advertising, art, music, literature, cinema and so on).
Alternative computing critiques and reconfigures the infrastructure of information and communication technologies.
Participatory/citizen journalism projects employ the ethics and practices of professional news reporting and editorial opinion to cover communities, stories, and points of view that are neglected by the mainstream press.
Mediated mobilization extends and activates the power of “live”, local social relations and organizing.
Commons knowledge projects reorganize and categorize information in ways that can challenge or reframe established, expert knowledge classifications of mainstream cultural institutions and disciplines.
By Cristina F. Souza
Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press
Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles. Bristol: Intellect.